Saturday, 18 July 2015

Sound and Fury

I believe I mentioned that I read Minding the Campus. I actually disagree with the editorial slant a lot of the time and basically use it for the sidebar (and also updates on the article that I led me to it in the first place). Basically, to me, the site is like a filter that gives me a manageable portion of the ongoing discussion in an area of some interest to me. As any good filter should do, it sometimes turns up things which are reasonably interesting. Today it found this: PROGRESSIVES SHOOT AT SHAKESPEARE Which led to Teacher: Why I don’t want to assign Shakespeare anymore (even though he’s in the Common Core). And then that to Teacher: Why it is ridiculous not to teach Shakespeare in school. This seems the perfect sort of thing for this blog: did I not quote Macbeth the other day?

Now, let's be clear. I am not so interested in the content of those articles. But, let's just make a few comments. Starting with the original article.
Mostly, I do not believe I should do something in the classroom just because it has “always been done that way.”
That's entirely fair and reasonable. You should always have some decent sort of reason to do something. However, I disagree that the only reason why Shakespeare is studied is because that has always been so.
And while I appreciate that many people enjoy re-reading texts that they have read multiple times, I enjoy reading a wide range of literature written by a wide range of ethnically-diverse writers who tell stories about the human experience as it is experienced today.
That right there makes me think this is a rationalisation. Like with my course reviews... a personal opinion exists firstly and then later on there is an attempt to frame that opinion in a more socially appealing way: to market it. The italicised is touched on by the second teacher.
we continue to cling to ONE (white) MAN’S view of life as he lived it so long ago, we (perhaps unwittingly) promote the notion that other cultural perspectives are less important.
Is that the case, though? Does the teacher actually represent and address the arguments of what we might term, although it is ludicrous to do so, the pro-Shakespeare camp? Probably not.
So I ask, why not teach the oral tradition out of Africa, which includes an equally relevant commentary on human behaviour? 
Again, we see this in the other teacher response.
If we only teach students of colour, as I have been fortunate to do my entire career, then it is far past the time for us to dispense with our Eurocentric presentation of the literary world.
Now that, right there, concerns me. We see, throughout the article, references to ethnic diversity. This comment suggests, perhaps, ethnic diversity is, to this teacher, a different form of ethnic homogeneity.
Let’s let Shakespeare rest in peace, and start a new discussion about middle and high school right-of-passage reading and literature study.

Generally, it's rite-of-passage.

Okay, now the response which I read first. It starts with a summary of the article.
He is the result of white people’s tastes.  He’s a routine, not a fresh discovery
This is an important line to remember. It captures a lot of the perspective of the author.
But why attack Dusbiber for voicing standard progressive premises? Her opinions are not the complaints of a narrow-minded and eccentric individual. They are entirely in keeping with multiculturalist notions.
This is the other thing to keep in mind. On one hand this essay is, largely, stick with what we have done and on the other an exercise in paranoia. Now, that's only a little unfair as the author does follow up with, "True, she delivers a blunt and inexpert expression of them" which, whilst true, ignores that, fundamentally, a good idea in the hands of a moron often resembles a bad idea, whilst a bad idea in the hands of a genius can seem golden. In other words, how things are wielded matters, a lot. This is deeply ironic given the nature of this conversation (i.e. English as an academic discipline).
  • Students need “representation”—black students need to see black authors and black characters (humanely portrayed), and it’s best if they are presented by a black teacher.
  • The past is irrelevant or worse—history evolves and mankind improves (if steered in the right social-justice directions); to emphasize the past is to preserve all the injustices and misconceptions of former times.
  • Contemporary literature is better—it’s more diverse and more real.
  •  Classics are authoritarian—they deny teachers and students the freedom to chart their own curriculum and take ownership of their learning.

A brief summary of those arguments.
One, his distance from us compels us to reflect upon our own condition.  As we enter the world of Hamlet and Henry V, we must imagine a world of different values and beliefs and mores. This in turn excites in youths a “political imagination,” Bruenig says, that makes us regard our own time more critically.
The second rationale has a political meaning, too, but a concrete one.  Politicians often invoke historical references to bolster their positions.  It is crucial, then, for youths to know these references in order for them to assess their political uses and abuses.
This is the author's renditions of another's progressive argument for Shakespeare. It is deemed by our author to be weak:
It is hardly necessary to note that if this is the best progressive argument for Shakespeare, he hasnt a prayer.  One doesn’t need to read a whole Shakespeare play in order to pick up historical allusions in contemporary politics.  A Wikipedia entry will do.  The same goes for encountering the strangeness of the past.  Why struggle through the scenes of King Lear in order to understand the situation of the poor in Renaissance Europe?  
In all honesty, I am unconvinced that this is the author's true perspective and, instead, this is their thoughts within that paranoid framework. Alternatively, it's just being lazy.

Think about it. Do you truly capture the meaning, the oomph, of a reference simply by knowing what it refers to? Is having read the plot summary the same? Of course not. I read Lord of the Flies initially because I wanted to understand something in Animal Farm, the second volume of Fables (i.e. not the actual Animal Farm). There is an emotive or otherwise more nebulous element that is lost with this name and date method/work-around. And we also note that name and date is antithesis to "progressive" education. There is a complexity at play that makes only so much sense. But, perhaps, I do not really agree with the idea as mooted anyway. Instead, perhaps, it makes sense to frame the necessity of Shakespeare in terms of "On the shoulder's of giants?." That there is value in understanding the Early Modern English body, in the way that Chaucer is of Middle English and Beowulf of Old English? As English speakers, there is a shared heritage inherent. Something like that. Knowing how it was is an important part of understanding how things are. We can find the appropriate buzzwords later on.

The first argument is far stronger. What sort of idiot proposes that we examine but one source of knowledge? That we explore one form of knowledge? Not a progressive idiot. Again, it's antithetical to ideas in modern education which is all about variety and many-angles. To what extent, though, is this part of English? As opposed to History? Well, really, it's more like classical studies (which, fair play, seems, as an idea, to confuse the hell out of Americans in the same way I double take at "language arts" I mean, what?)... except Elizabethan/Early Stuart.

The defence of history, as a discipline, against the 'academic Ponzi scheme' remarks of the world, applies in part, or arguably equally, to the defence of Shakespeare as a thing to examine. Is Lion King not Hamlet? Is that not a joke in Third Rock From the Sun? Is one of the new film stars Tommy? Yes, yes and yes again.

As a literary thing, Shakespeare is everywhere: his works are undeniably part of what it means to understand and communicate in English. Having some idea, in an academic context, of some of the big works (I would argue that Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and a Midsummer Nights Dream are the best known, with Hamlet and Othello not so far behind).

We can also extend the criticism of laziness to the original teacher... as was done by our author here.

Okay, maybe I am more interested than I claimed. On to the third!
I prefer Othello, so I teach that.  But I don’t do it because I feel beholden to any set of expectations or standards–I do it because I want my students to have the experience of reading it…that’s it, and that’s all.
Simple and powerful, devoid of after the fact social rationalisation.

I often tell my students that one of the main reasons to read a Shakespeare play is simply for the privilege of telling others you’ve read a Shakespeare play.

Oh you, intellectualist you. Piss off, get more relevant.
To dismiss Shakespeare on the grounds that life 450 years ago has no relation to life today is to dismiss every religious text, every piece of ancient mythology (Greek, African, Native American, etc.), and for that matter, everything that wasn’t written in whatever time defined as “NOW.”
Hear hear.
If Ms. Dusbiber doesn’t want to teach Shakespeare or doesn’t like Shakespeare or thinks Shakespeare is too hard for her students, then fine…let that be her reasoning.
We are in the Houses of Parliament. My hand is bleeding from the thumping on the desk. (That is, I strongly agree and have been overly vigorous in showing my approval. I mean, damn, is that not social rationalisation critiqued?)
What she really seems to be saying is that no one should read anything that isn’t just like them, and if that’s her position as an English teacher, then she should maybe consider a different line of work.
I guess that's a fair interpretation. Although, in all honesty, my experience of English (and I dare say that of many others) is overwhelming fair at being wrong in the interpretation. English was, to me, an exercise in stripping away any and all confidence many pupils have. At least, in Year Eleven. In Year Twelve I wondered if I could not trust anything my teacher marked because she liked me too much. This was reinforced by the poor return of my mocks which were marked by someone else.
Also–where does it say that we can’t teach Shakespeare AND oral African tradition?  In fact, why not work to draw links between the two? And should we only read authors that look like us and have experiences like us?  Or for that matter, does a commonality in skin colour mean a commonality in experience? 
Toldja it'd come up again. In some circles we like to discuss how many who theoretically advocate for marginalised groups do so in a manner that removes all individual agency of members of those groups. This is, generally, unintentional and the work of people who don't quite understand the points which they inexpertly wield.
it turns the English classroom into a place where no one should be challenged or asked to step out of their comfort zone, where we should not look beyond ourselves.
Given the tendency of Minding the Campus to jump on trigger warnings, I am surprised it did not take up this angle more strongly.

Which is an important point to note: America is entirely the wrong country to have this conversation in. It's starkly divided, polemic and keen on defending its partisanship. It is proud of its flaws and those flaws get in the way in this sort of conversation. I question, in fact, the existence of progressive educational pedagogy, at least in the terms discussed here and adopted by myself.

Okay, so what am I interested in? Well, I recently mentioned that we did Macbeth in Year Eleven English. In year ten I'd actually done a dualogue from Macebeth for drama (it was towards the end, Macduff vs Macbeth) so I wasn't exactly unfamiliar with it in an academic context either. We'd also looked at A Midsummer Night's Dream a bit in English in year ten and, before that, The Merchant of Venice. Strictly speaking, I'm not sure we ever actually finished our Shakespeare unit in Year Nine. I am convinced that many of my papers for English vanished from my English folder in 2009 so, as a result, they're not in the photo-album that I've archived my my materials in. Thus, I cannot confirm my suspicions re: Venentian merchants. I also know that some of the year thirteen English people looked at Othello... I don't know if that was just one class or what it was for because I dropped English after year twelve. What I want to do, is use this as a launching pad to reflect on English as I experienced it.

Well, why did we study Shakespeare? Or, rather, why Shakespeare at all? I'd argue that we were doing Shakespeare in part because they're plays. That's an important dimension of English that really needs to be considered. But, then, why not something like, say, The Crucible or Two or The History Boys? Stuff written more recently although, again, set in irrelevant contexts... perhaps Niu Sila or Number Two? (I've seen, been in, read and seen a film adaptation of, watched and read, and seen a film adaptation of these plays, they're not random choices.) Well, honestly, none of these plays have had the deep impact on wider English in the way that Shakespeare's plays have. Yet, we cannot possibly study all the constantly referenced ones (didja see Hamlet in that list? Methinks not) so is this line of reasoning in any way valid? Well, yes, actually. In some sense, even just one is needed to a) help explain why these plays are viewed the way they are (almost tapu going by the above) and b) help develop the skills needed to look at all the other ones. Yet, I think it's also important to (and again I'm reflecting the above) to take one of the bodies of work that represents the early form of English as we know it. Readers, if you're not aware that Shakespeare's Early Modern English, Dickens is Modern, Beowulf Old and Chaucer Middle English, piss off and come back when you've checked on Wikipedia (or elsewhere you stubborn dogs, you). But if you take this view, then by implication you have to support having a look at texts from a variety of times. Hang on...

Yeah, I totally agree with that view. In year nine and ten, if we insist on reading only the one book, something that's pretty contemporary is probably ideal. The Pigman (which is what we did) is possibly a bit old (card is contemporary youth slang to its characters) but is still fine in this context. Tomorrow, When the War Began which we did do in year ten? Ideal. This way, in Year Eleven you can look at something written from the first half of the 20th Century, which means Year Twelve is time for something from the 1800s or, perhaps, earlier. In this fashion, by moving backwards through time, the pupil hopefully develops a more temporal understanding of things. Perhaps, even, realising why exactly the original Shakespeare commentator was wrong: the human condition has relevance through time and place. In year thirteen, this chronological selection factor can be ignored: it's time to choose something purely for its sake (after all, not everyone sticks with English all the way through). But, honestly, I'd prefer it if two books were read. I think it's ridiculous that we did one film and one book a year with some fluctuation around that.

There is time in the English room to do these things. It is possible to choose books for thematic purposes and then use those texts as springboards for other types of assessment. Maybe use the ideas in the first book to develop arguments as a lead in to persuasive writing and speaking. There's lots of room to do stuff, so do it. Sure, you'd ideally actually spend less time on each individual text and structure things in such a way that spark notes versions of texts won't cut it: pack things more densely. That would also have the benefit of requiring more free thinking in the English room and less regurgitation of the English teacher's stated interpretations of texts.

I guess, the ideal model would have an integrated text list:

  • First Book, with time consideration.
  • Second Book. Either of these could, technically, be plays.
  • Some poems and short stories for variety.
  • One film.
  • One/Two short films.

The students's assessment, in terms of reading meanings from these, would largely relate to their ability to draw parallels between what they're reading. In this sense, the teacher should not make those parallels explicit and as the student gets older have less apparent connections between the texts or start looking more at the differences between them in features that are the same. Is there a contradiction between the behaviour of the boys in Lord of the Flies and the children in Digimon? Why or why not? The integration isn't necessarily everything's being linked by some theme (e.g. social interaction) on an obvious level. I mean, one could easily look at Brave New World, Watership Down, On the Sidewalk Bleeding (it's a short story), Two Cars, One Night, and A Bug's Life, which are all linked by that theme (obvious, Efrafa vs other types of warren, main character's in a gang -- it makes more sense when you've read it, see my previous post and it;s about an oddball init? the grasshopper thing? lots of material), yet because they are all so wildly different a little bit more thinking is required to see that.

I also suggest that one of the outcomes of the way we've been doing English is that students are afraid to have their own opinions now, which, particularly with boys, causes a retreat into, "I don't care about the meaning, just whether or not I like it". I think the above way of doing things would reduce that because what is really important about the above is drawing the connections. Patterns. But we're not getting rid of the meaning thing. You'd still treat something in isolation for one of the externals (whether film or book or some other text type), still have unfamiliar texts and then have the last standard now be intertextual... with the emphasis on justifying why the similarities are important rather than what they are. Something like that. I'm bored now.

So, it's been a pleasure getting some development of an idea down, it's up to you, dear reader, to decide whether or not it needs a comment. Whether good or bad I invite the critiques. Really, honest, plz? I's dyin' for comments.

Friday, 17 July 2015

A Contest That Doesn't Exist

A Contest That Doesn't Exist
In Which Our Hero Loses

By Our Hero I really mean me. And I do lose. I was, in fact, expecting to win and, indeed, have a rationalisation which means that it is not I who really loses. But, I suppose, even contests that don't exist need introductions.

One of the things I did in my first week of uni last year was pick up an issue of Craccum after deciding that they were free to take. This wasn't a necessarily easy decision to make because few people read Craccum and I am not sure if I'd seen anyone take one from the Symonds Street Underpass box beforehand (this is where I get most issues of Craccum). This is a sad state of affairs for a student magazine and I am not sure the current editors have taken the right approach to increasing its readership (I am convinced that Craccum no longer knows if it is a student magazine or it is a wannabe Metro or something like that). Hell, sticking a free on the box and just creating time-relevant issues would be a good first step (week one is where you get new readers, don't write something called "Last Call for Culture" and run it as a lead... it sounds stuffy and new students haven't yet got any basis on which to nod their head along as they reach each new point raised, which was the point of the article unless I am very much mistaken). Argh, jeez, I'm A.A. Milne.

Anyway, a few weeks ago (4 June apparently) the arts editor (who I am fairly certain was once in the same history tutorial as me, but, hey, I don't know for sure) wrote her editorial and called it "Guilty Pleasures". It's fairly interesting. I agree with many of the sentiments. I would interpret it in the context of "Who cares about the symbolism?" or that meme about English teachers and curtains. What I am trying to do is just give a brief idea of what was in that post because her point is not our point. What we are interested in is the reference to 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, which is a book. As it turns out, the arts editor, Caitlin Abley, has read ten of those books, eight of which for academic purposes. Being an actually competitive person, I read that and my first thought was "I wonder how many I've read? Is it more?" unless you call that two thoughts. I pretty immediately resolved to find out. However, it turns out that that book is pretty popular so it has taken over a month for me to gain access to it (through Auckland Libraries*). So that's the contest: which of us has read more "must reads" than the other? It's probably a pretty fair contest: we're pretty much the same age even if I'm wrong about the tutorials.

But I already said that I lost.

As it happens, I've read 9. Abley has read 10 (remember?). If I had not been in advanced English in Year Eleven I probably would have read 10 too (most classes read Animal Farm, we got a short story and Macbeth instead. I don't mind Macbeth but reading Animal Farm is almost a rite of passage which I felt I was denied and reading it in my own time won't reclaim that). This probably means that if I had stuck with English I may have won, but I'm glad I didn't. As it happens, though, literally none of these books were read by me for the purposes of English. As I mentioned earlier, eight of the books that Abley's read were "because someone had forced [her] to." That's probably not as bad as it sounds because, in my experience, many of her peers wouldn't have read those books, whatever they are (she neglects to mention it). I won't to you dear, probably non-existent, readers.

That Noble Nine

The following will neglect to mention their authors.

One: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

In all honesty, I was kind of surprised that this was here. On the other hand, the criteria/point of the exercise by the compilers doesn't seem to have been to put out the "best" books that you should have read. Instead, they seem, as far as I can tell, to have been more interested in describing the (fictional) canon, as it were, rather than prescribing one as the "best" books implies. In that case, one would wonder how one of the most significant characters of the 19th Century could possibly excluded? I guess the authors thought the same way. Hell, Holmes is practically Late Victorian Britain... the middle era being captured by Dickens. Although, we may mean London.

Truth be told, the book gets it slightly wrong. Irene Adler, as established in A Scandal In Bohemia, is not the only person to have ever bested Holmes. While having two copies in my room and an internet at my finger tips means there's no real reason not to check (I'm pretty sure it's the first page as well), the book as far as I remember actually has four men manage the feat as well (unless it's four people, three of which are men). In any case, Adler and Moriarity are the two additional characters to have had the largest impact on what has followed in the enduring legacy of Holmes, regardless of the numbers (Moriarty actually appears in the Memoirs though). However, my personal favourite story from the collection at hand is The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, which starts with a hat and ends with a jewel.

Already we see two interesting things. One, while the 1001 is really about novels, it is flexible over that. Two, I actually did use this book or, rather, the Blue Carbuncle in English. In year eleven, the response standard that we did required independently read texts so I decided that I'd use something I'd read further ago in the past. So, even though it appears in my school work (not that, in my stubbornness, I have a copy of the final version of said work), it wasn't read for school. In fact, I've read these stories all at least twice (although, honestly, my memory is hazy).

Two: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

I don't remember when I read this. I know that it would have been a while ago and probably before Year Eight when I read the first book in The Looking Glass Wars. Which is important because I haven't actually got round to reading, well, finishing, the sequel: Through the Looking Glass (that title may not be 100% accurate). That's another reason why I am not at ten books. I am fairly certain that I resolved to read both somewhat more recently but whether I finished even the first again escapes me.

In many respects, Alice is the sort of book that I read (hey, we're wandering towards Abely's discussion again). I am very unwilling to let go of the past books that I've read. Most of the Harry Potters have been read by me at least three times (just the twice for the second and third). In fact, I even completed a very large HP fanfic known by HPMOR (the earlier part is more my speed though). I've read the first few Artemis Fowls quite a lot (as has a different Craccum writer) and I've read the last few as well. The Supernaturalist, by the same author, is not only on my shelf but it's been read multiple times as well despite that. Oddly enough, the books I used to read the most (i.e. the Redwall series) haven't been touched recently. But that doesn't mean that I haven't gone through Witch Week, the Karazan Quartet or Septimus Heap in the last few years. In fact, I think I read all of those again in the span of two weeks (that's quite a lot of reading) in 2012. I should read the Inkheart trilogy again as well... I've lost some of His Dark Materials but that's another trilogy that I can and have read some of the books of multiple times. A lot of these are fantasy or sci-fi/fantasy (in the case of Karazan), as is Alice. But the thing I am getting at is that they have a younger readership in general. But, the things is, Alice is more like Wind in the Willows or Watership Down... it might be what we'd call a children's story but it isn't really in terms of how everything is put together. The same is really true of His Dark Materials, in all honesty. That is something one notices about older books in particular (although two of those are pretty recent) and it is noted by the 1001 people when they describe Children's Classics (although I believe that's with respect to Huckleberry Finn).

In case you're wondering, yes I read Discworld (and also Good Omens, with some Long Earth books too for good measure). And yes, I read them in the same way. In fact, most of the books I read aren't traditional books (we'll come to that) or they've been read by me previously. I rarely read books I haven't previously read, actually.

Three: Brave New World

I don't remember exactly when I read Brave New World. I believe it was probably in Year Ten though because I have a vague recollection of my English teacher mentioning it to us (not the class as a whole though) and I found the idea intriguing. Having read the book, I find the idea disturbing. What concerns me the most about it, though, is that unlike Nineteen-Eighty-Four to which it is often compared it's quite a bit harder to explain why things are definitely wrong. For some that world would never work but everyone seems pretty happy. It gets a bit weird reading something, knowing that it's wrong with every fibre or your being and not really being able to express that in a manner as convincing as you would like. The end is good but also really terrible.

This is another of those books that ended up being used for English. This time in Year Twelve for an assessment that made a lot more sense than the responses we did in Year Eleven. It is possible that some of the ideas in it contributed to an exercise we spent a little time on at the end of year ten but I do not recall (the book we actually read in Year Ten was Tomorrow, When the War Began... I subsequently finished the series and read, iirc, the first in the follow-up). As far as I remember, we read a bunch of texts linked by an overall theme "social interactions". One of these was visual (Two Cars, One Night -- an NZ short-film about kids in two cars whilst their parents drink and/or gamble) and I think we also had another short-story in addition to the one I chose to use. In any case, three texts were from class and one more we had to choose ourselves from outside of it. In my case? Brave New World. Having done that we had to make connections between the texts. Hopefully my introduction will give you an idea:

The theme of social interaction is present across The Doll’s House, by Katherine Mansfield, Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, Two Cars One Night, directed by Taika Waititi, and Brave New World, by Alduous Huxley. In each of these four texts the interaction of individuals within the societies of the texts is reflective of that society. I think that this is idea is quite accurate as all the individuals make up society and society also influences those individuals. As such I expected that all four texts would be similar in their explanation of social interaction. The Doll’s House presents society as it is, Two Cars One Night provides a realistic window into childhood, Lord of the Flies is as honest as the others but looks at human nature and how that affects society, and Brave New World is also resoundingly blunt in its examination of what we think we want.
We also had to be more specific in our link than just "social interactions". I think my decision was to use: "the interaction of individuals within the societies of the texts is reflective of that society". Pretty obvious, no? Regardless, I was very pleased that this managed an excellence in the end, AS 91104.

Four: The Call of the Wild

I first read this ages and ages ago (possibly around year six but I have no certainty about that at all). I read it again a bit more recently and the book is still where I left it after I finished as well (five of these books we have at home... and quite a few more of the other ones in the 1001 list too, Kim, for instance, is on my shelf, The Grapes of Wrath and Frankenstein were, last time I checked, elsewhere in my room). It's a good book to read. 

I'm not really sure what to say about The Call of the Wild, though. It's not unique, in my experience, of taking an animal's perspective and imagining things from that of the animal. Watership Down is pretty much the same but rabbits being properly wild to start with have way fewer ideas about man than Buck does. Also, because this is about dogs and wolves the themes are very different. In some respects, one could draw easy parallels between this and Lord of the Flies, very easy indeed. I guess it's included for dealing with that theme of the "call". What is the size of the step between pet and wolf? 

I guess, the only way that any flesh could be added to this bone is to complain about the exclusion of Watership Down. Yet, in a very real sense, that's not the point. I read a book a long time ago and apart from 1001 books and this blog haven't really ever had any cause to treat in even the most vague of reflective lights. Take what you will from that.

If you haven't read it, though? Read it. Read it for the feeling. It's an evocative book.

Five: The Hound of the Baskervilles

Holmes at his best. I think that was 1001's rationale. Having read the book, this is also Holmes at his absolute worse, chronologically at least. The whole thing is a magic trick: Watson is the hand you shouldn't be watching.

If you're interested in Sherlock Holmes this is probably the novel to read. The earlier ones that really introduced the character aren't as good.

I don't think there's anything else to say. I could talk about the many adaptations (e.g. the Hounds of Baskerville) but to me Holmes isn't in any of the novels I've read. Holmes, for me, is at his true best in things like the Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle. Fast, furious and decidedly a step ahead of the game... once he realises there's a chase to be had. That is, for me, Holmes where the realisation that without the rush of the chase or the trap of intrigue Holmes is in a funk being made explicit.

Six: Lord of the Flies

Yeah, well, I've already actually probably covered my thoughts on this haven't I? The dedicated reader knows that I've read it and knows that I subsequently had to do it English (whereupon, I read it again). The reader who's stuck this far has already read a little bit about Lord of the Flies (LOTF) in this blog. So, what on earth could I have to add?

I must've read this in 2011. I'm not sure, though. All I know for sure is that when I read it for the first time it was because I was reading something about Animal Farm (as in the Fables collected graphic novel). In that, a pig's head gets cut off and stuck on a stake. The thing I was reading said this was a reference, I discovered that was for LOTF and then I found the premise interesting enough to read it. So I did. It is ironic, then, given how this pig's head turns up, that I find Simon and the Beast so spectacularly uninteresting. The Lord of the Flies is a hallucinated version of this head on the stick. It's basically the hallucination that helps kill Simon (1001 suggests he is murdered, I, though, know the truth: it was an accidental ritual sacrifice). My opinion on Simon, and the Beast, is to a large extent an expression of my inner hipster. Boith of these characters/figures/whatevers get a lot of attention in English lessons about LOTF. That eventually got a bit boring and this process is an important reason in why my friend and I started thinking negatively about Ralph the Leader as well. Yet, Simon does matter in some contexts. Again, we turn to AS 91104.
Simon is an outcast among the boys on the island – he fits in well enough and has a semblance of being part of the society but mentally he is in another place. He is the one that realised that the boys had allowed their society to create and perpetuate the Beast. The others were so caught up that they were unable to see clearly (quite literally at the top of the mountain when they think they see the Beast) and missed the Beast’s true nature.
Simon and the Beast are inextricable. But I mentioned that last time. I don't like either, as I said. Perhaps my most damning assessment of them is in what they get connected to.
In Brave New World only a select few possess the experiences (in the case of Bernard Marx or John) or the mental capacity (Helmholtz Watson or Mustapha Mond) to see the flaws present in their Brave New World. Where the boys are caught-up in their society the denizens of Brave New World believe in their society (Mond is the best example of this as he knows everything there is to know about it, especially the flaws). The reader can be allowed to think that they would be like Simon or Helmholtz but the reality is the odds are very low
That's right, Helmholtz who is really a pretty minor character. However, the point of that sentence is actually really important. When one thinks about things like the Nazi Germany one generally imagines that one would be like Sophie Scholl, that one wouldn't buy in. I disagree. The reason why the Nazis got anywhere is because most people aren't Simon. Maybe I am creating this perception. Maybe most people agree with me. I don't know. Forgive my attempt to make me Simon?

Ultimately, though, Lord of the Flies is proof that a book where a curtain really isn't just a curtain (and nor is it a cigar) can still be a good read. I guess that's a very good argument to read it.

Seven: Nineteen Eighty Four

In some respects, given my remarks on Alice, one would have expected entry seven, as six was LOTF, to be LOTR. I've looked at LOTR. I've even tried reading it. Verdict? It's world-building, not a book to read. Lewis was the better writer of the two best known members of the Inklings, and I will forgive him The Last Battle. But, anyway, there is a book that is Number Seven and it is very much in the vein of Brave New World. Which means we've reached our third dystopia in a list that we know is only nine books long. I'm a fun upbeat kinda guy, honest. Hang on, didn't you think reading Animal Farm would be a rite of passage... er...

I don't necessarily remember too much of this one. It's over-rated I reckon. To my mind it is better known than Brave New World but isn't actually as good. However, it's probably closer to the reality that we experience. The Surveillance State just got worse after Orwell died and now it, in the guise of privacy and terrorism/national security, is a big thing now (I don't really care, I don't see this as a slippery slope that leads to Big Brother is Watching You). Whereas drugs are still really controversial, strict castes are anathema and really all you can argue is that infotainment has much the same effect. But, of course, keeping people uninformed is one of the big things in this book as well. Comrade Ogilvy or whatever his name was is my favourite part, in all honesty.

With AS 91104, I think my friend intended on using this. He may have read it for his responses the previous year, though. Honestly, I don't remember. I probably contemplated it myself. But, I do know sure that I read this at pretty much the same time as Brave New World. If you read one, you have to read the other. If we want to talk about a canon or anything like that, these books are, to my mind, paired within that. 1001 didn't really draw this connection.

Honestly, I preferred what I've read of Shooting An Elephant. Thanks History 106.

Eight: Vanity Fair

I read Vanity Fair in 2011. This was one big reason why I decided to use it as a response. I didn't read it particularly quickly (it is pretty long) and I didn't read it because I had to, although the responses may have contributed to my finishing it. There are some big things about this that I remember but I am fairly hazy on the end and the very start. I should, probably, read it again but I didn't like it that much. In fact, the only reason why I read Vanity Fair was because of the way it was described in The Great Writers which was a magazine series that my mother collected and obtained a number of classic books via (including, Brave New World, Vanity Fair, Kim, Frankenstein, The Grapes of Wrath, Shakespeare's Comedies and Tragedies and A Tale of Two Cities, among others). In this sense, I read it for much the same reasons as I read Sherlock Holmes (The Adventures are also part of the collection), However, I decided that book was oversold. I expected something funnier, honestly.

So, what do I have to say about Vanity Fair? Well, there's some good stuff in the relationship between the Osbornes and the other family that Rebecca is entwined with (see? I've forgotten the name). The Waterloo stuff is good too. I guess I'd argue that the late-start and middle are the strengths of Vanity Fair. I probably need to read it again: what was with Rawdon? I can't quite recall. It's almost the sort of book that you read to have said you've read it. There's just enough to stick with it (unlike, say, Moby Dick, which I forced myself through until deciding that I read for pleasure, not punishment and for the first time consciously chose to not finish a book), but probably not enough for a modern audience just looking for a normal read to choose. You either have an interest in the setting, the author or the themes (what I was "sold" on) to start with. That's good enough.

Oh, and yeah, probably would've been a good alternative to Brave New World for 91104.

Nine: Watchmen

Remember what I wrote about the 1001 list (*Word Count*) 2,864 words ago? Well, here it is: is a graphic novel, a novel, a comic or something in between? Well, to be honest, most graphic novels are still comics. Watchmen is different. This is what a proper graphic novel looks like. As you may remember from my views on Alice some 2000 plus words ago, I read a lot of non-traditional books and that means comics. Really, it means superhero graphic novels. Some of those a pretty good, some of those are meh, some are hilarious and others are, "Yeah, that was disappointing". I sometimes branch out a bit (e.g. I've almost completed Fables and read most of Y: The Last Man, and also A Contract With God) but that's not really my thing (Tintin and Asterix are something altogether different in my view). Also, I'm pretty strictly Marvel, Watchmen is one of the exceptions (when it comes to superheroes).

Watchmen is yet another dystopia (so that's 4/9, plus 2 Detectives, 1 historical satire, a story about a dog and Alice). It's got superheroes though, most of which are like Batman. However, Doctor Manhattan is God, and He's American. It's well done and it's got tolerable art from the perspective of someone who is entirely familiar with 21st Century Graphic Novel illustrations which are, sometimes, things of beauty (but are markedly different in quality, sometimes within the same story). Some of the lines are great and the characters feel right. The idea of what does having God be on one side do to the Cold War is central and rightly so. Oh, and there's Rorschach. I'm an unashamed supporter of Rorschach, but, honestly, I can't remember why he's sometimes branded hypocritical.

I read Watchmen because of something like 1001 or the Great Writers. It is, really, the only Graphic Novel you're likely to see in one of these lists and that's largely where I met it. I haven't seen the film but I have read people remark on the parallels within the Incredibles and I agree, in hindsight, that you can summarise that film as children's + Fantastic Four + Watchmen. I don't disagree that it belongs in these sorts of lists. The story, its ideas and its execution are every bit as good as Brave New World or Nineteen Eighty Four. It might be way more sci-fi than those are but that doesn't actually detract from it.

There are also some prequels that have been made, written and illustrated by different people, though. Those, based on the ones I have read, add to Watchmen. They remind you what was so good about it in the first place. I would, however, not read them before you read Watchmen and having read Watchmen it is not necessarily the sort of adding that is a must. The original, though? Everyone who reads superheroes or watches superheroes should read Watchmen (and the people who watch them need to read quite a few other ones as well because you can do so much more than the films do). There's a debt that comics owe to Watchmen and there's a context that one lacks without it.

So, woah, nearly 4000 words of reviews and reflections. Nearly 4500 words with the start added in as well. This is, possibly, my biggest blog yet. I know, I'm verbose. I am also, as a result of this blog, not bored. Bonus.

Yet, I am not sure, entirely, that I have been able to write something that sustains the reader through it. Would I be better of building suspense? Who knows? No-one ever comments. I am also, in hindsight, not sure what I wanted to write in those review sections. Was I reviewing the books or reflecting on the context in which I read them? Both? Something else? All I know is, were this something that was written for an academic purpose, it would have had a purpose decided beforehand: some point that need conveying. Here? There's nothing explicit. And a lot of the time, I feel that's why we have curtains.

Oh, and that rationalisation for why I didn't lose? None of these were read, initially, because I was forced to. That's my 9 to Abley's 2.

*I am actually in favour of the Super City having seen how it has turned out. The problem is the govt's relationship with Auckland. It's become evident that the Super City was created so that National could have a scapegoat and/or shirk its responsibilities as the party in govt. 

Stats 108: A Review

Introduction -- We are 95% Confident That...

Statistics is, perhaps, not an intuitive course for prospective business students to take. On the other hand, when you think about it, even for a moment, it makes, in some ways, more sense than including the likes of accounting or economics. After all, aren’t those very different disciplines? The one technical, the other scientific. Yet, we’d expect a business graduate to be able to tell you something of what the economy is up to (as in make some meaning of it) or know what a balance sheet looks like. And so it is with statistics. As a discipline statistics can say so much about so many things. In my view, for instance, marketing, as a major, needs a mate to be employable. To economists, understanding the evidence is, one hopes, very important. Thus, one finds statistics.

Note, this course is also known as Stats 101, Stats 101G or Stats 10x but we're looking at it as it appears as a BCom core course.


To provide an overview of important statistical ideas. Basically that means hypothesis testing, probability, errors and causality in studies, statistical significance (to the extent that this is distinct to hypothesis tests), plots and their interpretations, and a little bit on regression. These ideas mean that the course is necessary for those wanting to do BComs and some majors in other degrees (e.g. psychology).

Model: What does Stats 10x Look Like?

Well, it's three one hour lectures a week with a number of optional tutorials. I never attended a tutorial as I never felt that I needed to but I've heard nothing but good things about them. As Stats 10x is required for all BCom students and is otherwise also important it is an absolutely massive course. There will be many streams and after the test, which finished pretty late, semester one 2015 (I had a test for Stats 20x at the same time) uni was jumping, which should give you an idea of the scale of the thing. Expect the first few lectures to be pretty jam packed but, as ever, things will ease up as some people stop attending. Lectures are recorded. The pacing with the lecturer I had was pretty good. That means Ross, but don't talk: he's funny but he will notice (even if you don't think you're being loud). In some lectures there will be questions to get you thinking, these are answered by clicker which are obtained from the IT place in Kate Edger and can be returned there if malfunctioning (they are loaned like library books just for 12 week periods).

The coursebook is pretty much everything in this course, though. It has all the lecture material with space for notes and even comes with, in the blue pages, revision materials. Those materials can look like further notes (and/or summarised ones, not everything in lecture is in the blue pages) as well as questions that you can try. They are all MCQs as well because the test and exam are entirely multi-choice. I suggest you do look at them because I actually got a question wrong in the test because I didn't know how to do it but I would have had I looked at those questions. It's got a pretty logical structure to it as well but some chapters are substantially shorter than others, although that doesn't mean they're not important.


There are two very different types of assessment in this course. They are also delivered in a system with a type of plussage. In Stats 10x the three assignments will be worth (assuming S2 2014's patterns hold in the future) 20%. This is true whatever happens, with the first two (which are pretty easy and quick to do) being worth 5% and the last one 10% (assignment three is much longer and requires SPSS which is only available at uni, I stayed behind late one night... two other dudes had the same idea so we discussed things a little, benefits of a huge course I guess). The test could be worth 10% and the exam 70%, or the test could be worth 20% and the exam 60%. Your final mark will be the higher of two methods. Either the one obtained by 20% + 10% + 70% or the mark from the 20% + 20% + 60% method. I believe that it may be the case that 90% won't necessarily obtain an A+ (although it did for me) because the course is pretty easy to do well in.

However, the assignments and test/exam look very different to each other. Assignments involve some manipulation, judgement, answer generation and interpretation. The test and exam, though, are based on appendices except when they chuck a theory question at you. Thus, they are either theory or interpretation in nature purely (maybe the odd little calculation based on the appendices) within the context of five multiple choice options. Thus, the assessment is pretty chill in stats 10x. Although, just because the two modes of assessment are very different the sorts of thins they include aren't so assignments can be good preparation for the test condition assessments. I guess the most important thing to recall is that all assessments matter and 10% is significant if you bombed on the test, just less so than 20%. Moral? Don't slack because it feels easy, if you screw up, you've still screwed up.

Oh, as a final feature, the assignments are also all marked out of ten. That is, the assignments themselves could be out of, say, 60 but that mark will be converted to a mark out of ten. For instance, 50/60 = 8/10, not 8.3/10. I'm not 100% that I did the rounding the same way the course does but that's the principle.


Well, to be honest, I am not sure I need to explain further. The aim basically encapsulates the important themes: everything else just adorns that. If I did explain further I'd basically be mentioning things in terms of these definitions. These reviews are study materials, they're reviews. Basically, more all additional information in terms of the content would be spoilers.

I will say one thing though. Stats 10x will draw on examples from a wide variety of fields. The thing with statistics courses like Stats 10x is that they are fairly general and, thus, are able to allow one to have snapshots of aspects of disciplines as varied as marketing and ecology. This will appeal to some but not necessarily others. In some cases, the example will be more interesting than the context it comes up in which, usually, is how to interpret something and the validity of those interpretations.

Success: Confidence?

  • Pay attention in the lectures and follow the advice in lectures on how to do the calculations you will have to do in assignments. This will save time, especially with assignment three.
  • Similarly, if the lecture says something is important, it really is. Knowing the boundaries for statistical significance and how to express that matters.
  • When you do your revision, as I said before, read white and blue pages to get all the important stuff from both of them. If practice questions are your thing, do them otherwise you're after the way questions are structured.
  • Multi-choice is impossible to make difficult. Keep calm and remember that. Stats 10x is one of those courses where recognising how the concept is applied and remembering what it is, is pretty much everything.
  • If you are confused about anything, firstly try and think it through yourself. Secondly, ask someone (either in lectures or go to a tutorial) because they are genuinely helpful.


As you may have gathered, I managed an A+ by the skin of my teeth. I can't recall what I got in the exam and nor do I feel like digging it up but it was really close. It was my only A+ in 2014 (and I tend to be more around the A- level) which is one reason why I feel that Stats 10x is a pretty easy course. I also liked it. It was, perhaps, not quite as interesting as Maths 250 but it was substantially easier (I got a C in Maths 250) and more than interesting enough for me to decide to pursue stats as another major. That gives you both an inkling of my biases in an extremely reflective review (I've since taken and achieved an A- in the also easy Stats 20x) but should also shed some light on the potential, for people sufficiently similar to me, to take to this course. However, the course doesn't really leave one with an overwhelming impression despite being very clear about the stuff it talks about (take note, Infosys 110). That all being said, if I had one thing to say about Stats 10x it is this:

Having done Stats 10x you should be much better prepared to be able to look at a statistic more critically and think about what it really means, although maybe most of that happens at the start of the course.