On November 15, I attended the Hard Rubber Orchestra's King Crimson tribute at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver, BC. The theatre was packed, largely with older couples who appear to have followed the band since the 70s. One of the guest vocalists, Leanne Dunic, is a friend from high school; she's someone I've lost touch with, but I've followed her artistic escapades through social media for years. It was a good show overall, and the arrangers certainly had lots of fun with their arrangements of King Crimson classics like "Starless," "Frame By Frame," and "In The Court Of The Crimson King."
I've listened to King Crimson since high school, when a couple of my friends had copies of their debut album and THRAK, one of their most recent albums at the time. We often listened to them straight through, laying inbetween the speakers in order to fully experience the delicately-produced songs in stereo. We'd sit and talk about the perfection of "One Time," the absurd timing in "21st Century Schizoid Man," and the Mellotron-laced, despairing tone in "Epitaph." These are good memories for me, since the music seemed both passionate and interesting, perfect for someone like myself. Over those years, I collected a few more of their albums and enjoyed them immensely, even as my friends seemed to let them go.
There are plenty of songs I could talk about, but there's one that's been running through my head for the last few days, one I keep going back to despite its comparative simplicity: "Prozakc Blues."
"Prozakc Blues" follows a blues progression as closely as King Crimson can, despite numerous time changes and near-atonal solos. It's a wonder that one can hear the traditional blues format through it, particularly when it's so intensely dissonant. Despite the song's overall intensity, Fripp adds moody, airy fills throughout, and they inexplicably fall into place.
Lyrically, the song follows the blues pattern as well, but takes it to a ridiculous place. Sometimes King Crimson's lyrical humour can come off as a little too smart to even laugh at, but in "Prozakc Blues" it fits just fine. It's a narrative blues song that tells a story, that satirizes numerous classic blues tropes: "Woke up this morning," going to the Pearly Gates, etc..
When I hear "Prozakc Blues," I mainly think about the year I lived in Egypt. I had the song on shuffle on my Blackberry and spent a lot of time walking around the streets of 6 October City, trying to memorize it, trying to make sense of the time signatures, trying to hear the push-pull of the guitars and the drums. The song made me smile a lot because its humour, musically and lyrically, was pretty tough to come by in Egypt.
I saw an article today that describes how Western countries will not meet the environmental targets outlined in the Paris Accord. I'm not surprised about this at all.
I'm not surprised for multiple reasons. Here are the most basic reasons I'm not surprised in the slightest:
Here's why I'm not surprised at all that we won't meet the goals lined up in the Paris Climate Accord: because my life hasn't changed. Not one bit. I still drive my car way more than I should; I still keep my apartment warmer than I should; I still buy products like I did before. The Accord hasn't affected me directly one bit.
How can we expect systematic change when it doesn't affect parts of the system? If the only cost to the accord is the rising price of gasoline, or a little extra inflation, how will we affect change?
I'd say we won't. Until the measures taken to meet those goals force me to change my ways, I can assume we won't meet those goals. As long as I'm insulated from the effects of the accord, Canada won't be acting in a way that lets us meet it.
The article reads,
Failure to slow the pace of climate change will inflict massive dislocation on people around the world, with expectations of prolonged droughts and fires in some regions, and more extreme hurricanes and rain storms in others, climate scientists warn.
All of those symptoms? Those are the most easy things to deny responsibility for. So until I learn to perceive my part in them, I doubt the entire country would be able to pull off a similar mindset shift.
There are no "could've beens." There were choices we could have made differently, but nothing could've been that didn't happen.
I get caught-up in could've beens quite often. In high school, I wanted to go into photography. I took business and entrepreneurship classes hoping some of it would rub off on me. I imagined I could go to BCIT or some technical school and learn the ropes. I thought similar things about working in radio and broadcasting. But when I graduated, the prospect of working for myself genuinely scared me out of it. I felt incompetent and unwanted and just wanted a job that someone would pay me at. So I defaulted to teaching. I'm ok with teaching, but it's hard not to fall into could've beens about photography and whatnot.
On a similar note, I entered into marriage when I wasn't ready. I felt nervous about it, but I also felt nervous about not doing it. I made the choice to get married since I knew I'd have reservations and regrets either way. I trusted the wrong intuitions. And as much as I imagine what could've been with that relationship and the thousands of choices I could've made differently within and without it, it doesn't matter. That alternate timeline is just one of thousands of possible fictions, mere fantasies in my imagination. Sure, I could've made different choices, but who knows what those choices would've led to.
Could've beens exist in a false narrative, in the stories we tell about our own lives, in the myths that help us make sense of our decisions. We make a choice and imagine, or project our hopes onto that decision. When we think in could've beens, we project our current mindset to a person in the past and create a myth that the person we are today matches with the people we were in the past.
I only have one true narrative, the one that contains the choices I made. And I am the result of those choices. I might imagine that I could have become the person I am now without those experiences, but that's not true.
There is no 20/20 hindsight for an alternate story, because that story doesn't exist. I can lament the choices I made in regards to my career or relationships, but only so far as the choice itself. After that choice, the timeline never started. Only one timeline started, and that's the only timeline worthy of my reflection.
There's a funny thing about some of the sadder portions of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four. While O'Brien tortures Winston, he says,
Only the disciplined mind can see reality, Winston. You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right. You also believe that the nature of reality is self-evident. When you delude yourself into thinking that you see something, you assume that everyone else sees the same thing as you. But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes:
In this context, O'Brien gaslights Smith into believing something he does not perceive. But the gaslighting hangs on a truth: that our heads' perception is the only perspective thhat constructs our reality.
I would like to break out of the "could've been" thinking cycle. I've tried counselling and therapy, religion and art, learning and activity, but I still seem to sink into the pattern. I imagine the pattern's preponderance in my thinking stems from a deep dissatisfaction with my current way of life, despite my numerous blessings and good things.
As I write this, I get the feeling that it comes down to gratitude. I need to practice gratitude for my good life, for the things I have, for the things I've learned, and even the obtuse way I've learned those things.
I tried to write a bit about "Criteria" a while ago, but I stopped short. My head was full and I just wanted to publish the post and put it behind me. I couldn't seem to put my thoughts into words. But it's still on my mind so I'm going to give it a shot again.
The criteria line-of-thought is largely to do with my thoughts in response to Peter Coffin's "Meritocracy" video, embedded below.
The video generally highlights the arbitrary nature of "criteria" and the ways we arbitrarily create criteria and credit those who subsequently meet said criteria. In that video, he works carefully around politics and popular culture.
But when I think about criteria, I think about education. I've been teaching for... 13 years or so now, largely in English. Despite most people's impression of English as a "literature" and "composition" field, ultimately English courses are literacy courses, no matter what level we're working at. One's ability to be literate dictates their success in English.
But literacy, on its own, is not easy to assess. I tend to say it's "slushy," insofar as there's something thick and murky about pinning a number to one's ability to read and write. This creates the classic English problem: there's no simple "right or wrong answer" in most of what we do in an English class. So how do we assess and evaluate something so slushy?
We use criteria. Whenever I've attended a professional development workshop, or taken a pedagogy course, they've drilled the need to "make criteria clear" in order to make it "authentic." "Make it clear to your students how you intend to mark them, and the specific things you'll look for in your assessment and evaluation. Then students will know what they need to do to succeed." And for years I've stood by this. I've done my best to make my criteria clear.
Oftentimes, I use rubrics. Some rubrics are charts that describe different aspects of something and allow a teacher to easily tally a score—3/4 for style, 2/4 for content, etc.; some rubrics are simple numbers with explanations, like the BC Ministry of Education's 6-point scoring guide for the recently abandoned English final examinations. I often adapt these official rubrics for my own assignments in an effort to "standardize" my evaluation. In the words of some of the courses I took for education in University, this helps make evaluation more "authentic." I have spent countless hours creating rubrics over the years, just trying, trying to make them work.
But no matter how "authentic" and "standardized" I try to make my evaluation, no matter how much time I put into it, "authentic" marking is a myth. The appeal to authenticity is always problematic and does not stand up to scrutiny. And if the foundation of authenticity is problematic, the scaffolding—rubrics, criteria, etc.—crumbles. If authenticity doesn't work, neither do the rubrics and methods that we've used to achieve that authenticity.
Authenticity is a myth that most of us educators fall for because it's easy. Rubrics, under the guise of authenticity, cover our butts from scrutiny. When we use a rubric and share it with the students, it decreases the chance that people will question what we're doing. Students will feel stupid if they don't get it, and parents will feel justified in blaming the student for not meeting expectations. "They gave you the criteria! Why didn't you succeed? What are you, lazy?" No one has the time or will to go through a rubric and see whether it works, so we can lean heavily on them.
Recently, there's been a drive to make sure student expectations are written in student-friendly language. Fair enough. It's good when students can understand what they're doing, But student-friendly language doesn't make marking more legitimate. If we're assessing something artificial, the results will be artificial as well. Education gurus say "don't just give the rubric—give feedback," because feedback is what helps students move forward.
So why do the rubric at all? Why create a bunch of criteria that will create artificial results? I don't see the reason for all this criteria anymore. In English class, I don't see any evidence that students learn from it. Why bother then?
This year, despite the amount of work it leaves me, I've moved away from rubrics. I'm getting students to write in MLA format so I can write all over their work, and I'm giving written comments at the end. My assessment for larger, edited assignments is essentially some comments and a general letter grade, a letter I can translate to a number in the marks. I feel like I'm remembering more about the students' writing and thinking, and they have a little more to respond to. And the unity in using MLA format for submissions works as the levelled playing field. I don't have to play the authenticity card anymore because there's no rubric to appeal to: what matters is "did your work improve" and "what can you do o make it better." That's it.
No more artificial, mythical criteria; no more box-creating, ridiculous rubrics.
For now. Until I need to cover my butt.
By the way, I think a lot of the drive towards rubrics and whatnot stems from the forces of "21st Century Education," which essentially posits that students will need to be creative tech users in order to succeed in the future we're creating. I've often liked the incentives of 21st Century Education—the job skills, the focus on creativity, the praise of malleability—but I've often found it problematic as well.
21st Century Learning is a corporate-capital-driven program that has perpetuated itself under the banner of "preparing young people for an uncertain future." But it's always, always a corporate future. But I've never been able to put my concerns into words.
I started reading B.J. Mendelson's Privacy. He's got the beginnings of it in a throwaway line right near the beginning of the book:
Corporations have snuck their way into education up here in Canada too.
What I find most insidious about it is this: they've been able to sneak in by rebuilding the framework altogether through all this 21st Century Education stuff. And here we are, trying to make an assembly line that will essentially feed the pop Capitalist system.
And in that system, the Silicon Valley tech leader is king. And the more we lean in this direction, the more we cater to those Silicon Valley Values.
Just look through the "Framework for 21st Century Education." It's essentially a Silicon Valley resumé.
Just some food for thought.
In order to help with "recon" for a couple school hikes, I jumped on the opportunity to go on a couple hikes, one up to Zoa Peak (September 28) and one up the Tikwalus Trail (October 6). I haven't gone on hikes like this for the last few years, so it felt good to get outside and explore some local terrain.
Here are a few of the photos from those hikes. There will be a few more upcoming once the film gets developed, but I think this is pretty cool overall. It's unfortuante that I had used old film and wound-up with a bunch of double-exposures for the Zoa Peak hike. Hopefully I've learned my lesson about thrift store film and labelling a camera, and hopefully it will give me an excuse to head back up there soon. The weather is projected to be spectacular this week, so I might be able to try it again this weekend.
In addition to my own photos, I've actually appeared in a couple of other people's photos too. This is rare. For the last couple years, I mainly taken the photos, not been a subject. So here's some evidence that I still exist in real life, even to other people.
Zoa Peak (September 28)
Tikwalus Trail (October 6)
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