Thursday, 10 August 2017

A Lecturer Lectures

Today I stumbled upon an article for The Telegraph, where a lecturer slates modern students for using 'Extenuating Circumstances' as a 'sick note', or in other words, an excuse which is not justified. Here is the link to the aforementioned article:

I cannot explain the anger and disappointment that I felt when reading this article. It is unacceptable that an educational 'professional' should disrespect students in such a way.

I would venture to guess that Mr Fischer has not experienced any of these circumstances that he condemns as not 'reasonable', namely 'Asperger's, autism, anxiety, depression, ADHD, OCD, dyslexia, dyspraxia.' I come to this judgement, because if he did know anything about how they affect a person's ability to function daily, let alone handle high pressure situations such as exams, then he would not make such a controversial comment. I accept that I may be a little biased in this view, as I myself am a recipient of special considerations due to anxiety and depression, and in my first year I was granted deferrals of exams because of bereavement. However, one thing I want to make very clear, is that I have never used my disability to manipulate my deadlines or results, contrary to Mr Fischer's allegation 'students who had some "disorder" [were] extraordinarily able in using their disability to their advantage.' To an extent, I agree with Mr Fischer here, as I do not feel that my problems are serious enough that they affect the majority of my work, and my command of English. Yet, his flippant referral to 'some "disorder"' really does show off a great ignorance. Whilst I accept my problems are not as debilitating, this may not be the same for others. It may be true that anxiety or depression may not affect one's ability to write a sentence, but it affects what that sentence may be, and Mr Fischer especially should know, as a lecturer of English, that what you say is of vital importance. A mental disorder can severely affect a person's way of thinking, for example blocking creative flow, and what is produced from this state may be completely different to what would be written when of a clear head.

Perhaps even more disturbing is Mr Fischer's dismissal of universities as institutions that should offer support for their students. He claims 'it's their job to set a high standard, and it's the students' to reach it, whatever their difficulties.' Universities are extremely high pressure environments, and have no structure to support that is ridiculous. In fact, it may be important to consider whether these disorders that he dismisses may be a result of the stress caused by university rather than excuses.

I can understand Mr Fischer's frustration to an extent, where he feels that students are given an easier ride when they are undeserving. Whilst I know people who do definitely deserve extenuating circumstances, I also know people who have been granted allowances when they should not have. However, I still think that Mr Fischer's argument is very small-minded, and his anger is misdirected.  He seems to idolise the past as a time where 'reasonable adjustment' was minimal, assuming that this was a result of better guidelines and better students. Despite clearly identifying changes in the system, he seems to ignore other factors. For example, how many more students now attend university, and how so many more people have the confidence to apply. Perhaps the reason why a disorder like autism was not previously accepted as extenuating circumstances, was that those who have autism never felt like they would have the chance to go to university. As well as this, in the past, a lot of mental illnesses were not named or properly diagnosed, and this lack of awareness could also easily account for their absence from 'reasonable adjustment.'

Either way, times are changing. Instead of berating students for increasingly using extenuating circumstances, we should be cheering their efforts to continue with their studies despite whatever problems they are facing. The fact that more people have the confidence in themselves to attend university and get a degree is an amazing thing, and we should celebrate that.

I suggest Mr Fischer should focus on his teaching; the fact that his students don't know what makes up a sentence doesn't speak highly of his methods.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Too Hot to Trot?

Yet another example where a school are more concerned about 'reputation' rather than the mental and physical health of their students.

The school pass off the exclusions given to the students by saying that it was for 'defiant' behaviour, but in this case, the students are being defiant against rules which are potentially endangering their health. Why shouldn't others be 'defiant' if what they are doing is fighting back against pointless rules that have negative results. There is absolutely no reason why these rules should be imposed in the first place - what does it matter if a student doesn't wear their blazer around the school? Even for the purposes of the institution's reputation it is pointless, as no members of the public would see them. I'm sure a school would argue that prospective students and their parents may be looking around. But I imagine they would rather see calm and happy students at ease rather than students appearing uncomfortable and ill, and I know that I would be both shocked and angry that a school was treating their pupils in such a way.

Attitudes of schools need to change. They need to see past their concerns of ranking and 'reputation' and realise a good school is one with happy students who feel that they are supported and respected in their learning.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Commend or Command?

Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I saw that one of my friends had shared this article with a heart emoji, implying that she was moved by its content.

I agree that the main message of the piece is incredibly important - people should be able to wear whatever they want, no matter what their gender or sexuality, and uniform can often be a barrier to this. But unfortunately, in this particular instance, the message is hidden beneath a school's selfish focus on reputation and thus a lack of understanding of what today's society is all about (freedom to be whoever you want, however you want).

Whilst it is great that this boy was commended for wearing a skirt to school - though as the article goes on, this becomes more questionable and more likely to be an excuse after the event to save face - it should not be a revolutionary event. The fact that people still think it is shows how we all have a long way to go before people really can be who they want without judgement or standards. It is sad that the boy felt the need to take trousers along with him in case he needed to change because of comments from his teachers or peers. Society often prides itself on its modern acceptance of how people choose to identify, but perhaps this is all talk.

Or perhaps this issue is much more contained. I know from experience that universities offer the open space, free of judgement, that schools do not. It doesn't matter how you look, or how you identify, you always know that you are of value whoever you are. So why are schools so different? The answer is: they don't have to be, they choose to be. This is something I am very passionate about. There is no way that a school or educational institution can make any attempt to teach their students about how appearances do not matter, when they are enforcing the opposite message in their dress codes. Uniforms are an oppressive form that contain identity and dictate who and what it is 'acceptable' to be. The boy thought he was breaking the rules when he wore a skirt to school - this thought should not have even been put in his head. Of course, schools may try and fob this off by claiming that their rules are gender-neutral, and that it is not specified that boys cannot wear skirts, and thus should not feel that they are not allowed. But then why did he feel he was doing something wrong? Having a dress code is telling people what they 'should' look like, when in reality they should be able to dress however they please. Whilst it is true that not all schools do have uniforms, there are likely to be rules of some kind dictating how their pupils should dress, which again questions how they can promote free identity when they are restricting it.

What is most disturbing about this article, is how the claims of commending the boy seem to come from this specific school in an effort to save their reputation. It is mentioned that the boy changed his trousers during the day, implying that this was an action forced upon him by the staff. But here is the comment from the head-teacher that is incredibly shocking:

'This school has worked very hard to gain a reputation as a school that supports student individuality and by people posting statements on social media that are completely false, my reputation nearly went up in smoke.'

Not only does this perfectly summarise the ignorance of schools in thinking they promote 'individuality', but confirms that their only real concern is their status and reputation. Personally, I think this headmaster's comments are despicable, and quite frankly, the school's reputation should 'go up in smoke,' if they even had one for promoting individuality, which it appears they does not. It should not take negative comments for the school to embrace, and for some reason feel the need to publicise, the expression of a person's identity. All it does, is highlight how they were not given the chance to do so in the first place. So long as schools have a uniform or dress policy, they are not promoting freedom of identity, but are potentially damaging their students by telling them how they 'should' be. The entire concept of 'what is acceptable' is incredibly dangerous, and seems to impose rules on identity and appearance that should not be present.

I come back to my original point; I agree that a boy wearing a skirt to school is commendable, but portraying it as a wondrous occurrence only cements the incorrect idea that it is an anomaly, and potentially then is not right. No one considers women wearing trousers as out of the ordinary, so there is no reason why men wearing skirts should be either. If I walked into university tomorrow, and a male student walked past in a skirt, I wouldn't bat an eyelid, but more importantly, I know that no one else would either. We all know that a person's appearance is a way of expressing who they are, and what it is to be comfortable in their own skin. Of course, appearances are only one part of our identity, yet it is perhaps the part that many feel the most pressure to be content with.

So how do schools reckon they can encourage their students to be whoever they want, and that identity is a free choice, when imposing a set of 'rules' to restrict it, and creating false ideas of 'what is acceptable?'

Answer: they won't.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Love Yourself

Here I am, spending my evening the same way every student does - procrastinating - when I come across a rather questionable video on my Facebook news feed. It shows a couple of women putting tape around their necks, to pull their skin tighter in an effort to look younger and thinner. I was shocked that women were resorting to ridiculous measures for something that makes hardly any difference to their appearance. For curiosity's sake, I clicked on the video which provided me with the link to the product. Here is the link for anyone who is interested.

The first words I saw were 'sixty is the new sexy.' This disgusted me on so many levels, that I felt compelled to write this post. I was incredibly surprised to see it described as a 'medical grade tape', seeming to suggest that medical professionals would encourage the use of this product. All I can ask, is why on earth would someone use this product, let alone create it.

It is bad enough that there is so much pressure amongst young people regarding their appearance. They are told they have to look a certain way, and if they do not, then they look wrong. Of course this is not the case. As someone who was not happy with her looks at a younger age, I can relate to the desire to improve your appearance. I went to an all girls school, and was constantly surrounded by girls who I deemed prettier than me, and who got attention from boys. At a Year 8 disco, I was told by one of my friends that a boy had referred to me as 'ugly.' From that point, I decided to give up with my appearance, in the hope that I would grow out of it. I'm not sure if I did, or I learned to love how I look, but now I am happy with my appearance, and do not care if other people are not.

There is always that idea that you have to look good to be attractive and get attention from others. I am not going to lie, being asked out a few times towards the beginning of university did give me a confidence boost in regards to appearance. For some reason, my logic was that by liking me, they must find me attractive, and therefore my looks must not be that bad. Yet, this was one of the reasons I did not want to date any of them. I didn't want someone to like me straight away based on my looks, I wanted them to like me after they'd got to know me, and my personality. Luckily, I have found such a person. I know he appreciates my looks, but I also know that he wouldn't care if my looks changed. I could shave my hair off, I could dye my skin purple, and I know he'd still love me. I wouldn't care about my appearance either, because I know that he and others love me for who I am rather than how I look. Thankfully, now I do too. I am thankful to that boy who called me 'ugly,' as because of that, I realised I had a cracking personality and that was worth way more than a pretty face. As long as I appreciate myself, that is all that matters. I do still dress up and wear make up when I go out, but I do it for me, not for anyone else.

It is despicable that society, possibly even medical professionals, are encouraging women to change their appearance. In the case of this product, it goes beyond outrageous. They are sending the message that the natural process of ageing should be stopped, and that it makes you unattractive. Whilst their selling point may be that it's an alternative to cosmetic surgery, and therefore harmless and a great deal cheaper, it reinforces exactly the same message, but on a more extreme level. According to them, it is not good enough to be yourself, and you should do something as ridiculous as put a bit of tape on your neck to attempt to combat the inevitable force of nature and age. Apparently, everyone should have flawless skin, with no sagging or wrinkles, and they should strive for this appearance at all points in life.

The video of the product in use shows both a younger and older lady using the tape to pull in the skin around her neck. Not only does this emphasise existing pressure on young people to critique their looks, but also creates this pressure amongst older people. Yes, there is the existence of anti-aging products, and people do have cosmetic surgery to reduce wrinkles and saggy skin. But never has attention been so blatantly drawn to these supposed issues of aging. I have always accepted that I will grow old - after all, it is part of life, and it happens to everyone. So why are we being told this is wrong? Why are we prioritising pathetic beauty products and treatments over nature and health? This product should not exist, and the fact that it does, shows just how distorted our society has become.

I will say this in the plainest terms I can. Appearances should not matter. Love yourself for who you are, and not how you look. Everyone is beautiful. Aging is a beautiful process, and we should embrace it, not try to stop it. As a society, we need to change, and the change starts here.