Once again, French high school students have launched a petition to protest the content of the English test on the French BAC high school leaving exam. This time (2016) the problem is the use of the word Manhattan. The testers assumed that all students would know that it belongs in New York, but many did not, and felt that it was unfair to base their English language results on trivia known to some but not to others. The petition immediately gathered more than 12,000 signatures.
All this reminds me of last year's debate, when the petition (which gathered even more signatures) concerned questions that were also criticized as unclear, even to native English speakers (not that that matters, mind you).
I wrote about it at the time, but then didn't publish thinking "well, this will never happen again!"
So, only a year late, here's an essay on last year's petition against the English exam.
A peek at the new geek micro-genre of Excel Pop parody songs on Youtube - from Excel songmaster (and teaching award winner) Clint Tuttle. It's not every day you get to sign along with clever, pro-Excel lyrics.
"Pivots Functions! Got to slice the data up good!"
"Pivot tables halaluya!"
(I'm told this is Justin Bieber.)
For more youtube videos from singer, songwriter, teacher, Excel geek Clint Tuttle, see
(Thank you to Stephen Curry, professor of structural biology at Imperial College, for providing the core of this ToREAD booklist - and to The Guardian for publishing it!)
1. All Art Is Propoganda, Critical Essays, George Orwell
Ok - this is a cheat. I've already read Orwell's essays and am now rereading them. But in a dangerous time when hypocrisy and humbug are the height of literary fashion, Orwell's fearless and direct analysis is a refreshing reminder of what writing in general and journalism in particular can be (when not engaged in apologizing for totalitarianism or tiptoeing around taboos). For a bracing French essay in this great tradition, I highly recommend Caroline Fourest's new book,In Praise of Blasphemy: Why Charlie Hebdo Is Not Islamophic, so far available in English translation only as an ebook.
2. The Sense of Style, Steven Pinker
A diehard Pinker fan, I will eagerly follow him wherever he goes, so if he moves from the brain to grammar, so will I. Pinker is one of those rare scientists who write with exceptional clarity about things I know nothing about. Always a pleasure.
3. The Only Woman in the Room, Eileen Pollack
Having witnessed an appalling case of sexism in the classroom this year, I'm curious to read Pollack's account of her own struggles. And maybe get some guidance on what to do today. After watching a science teacher blatantly discriminate against girls in his class, I'm ready to slap anyone who asks "Why aren't there more women in science?" as if it were a mystery.
4. Herding Hemingway’s Cats, Kat Arney
I'm a little afraid of a book on DNA but Dr Curry assures us that "Arney’s chirpy tour through the mysteries of modern genetics is engrossing and fun", so I'll give it a try. Anything to get a handle on the Build-A-Human start-ups that are bound to go public soon. Also, there's Hemingway in the title, so that's good.
This book comes with a warning from Dr Curry: "Don’t pick up Being Mortal if you aren’t prepared to hold your gaze on the face of death." Having been unable to prevent my mother from suffering a horribly long and painful death, I am very interested in anything that might spare others this experience. Or offer some kind of understanding.
7. The Vital Question, Nick Lane
Dr Curry calls this a "rip-roaring tale of the most fundamental problem in biology". Who can resist? Though, ahem, it's "not for fair-weather readers". But then, vital questions shouldn't be, should they?
8. Life’s Greatest Secret, Matthew Cobb Is it the advancing years that draw me to yet another book on DNA, this time from cybernetics and molecular biology angles? Dr Curry says this is "one of the year’s greatest science books". Definitely worth a try.
9. Serving the Reich, Philip Ball One of the great mysteries of the rise of Nazis was just how many scientists (and other intellectuals), when faced with a terrible dilemma, made the wrong moral choice. An ever topical subject.
10. You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson
As a practitioner of social media (ok - addict) I'm curious to discover the case histories of "shaming". Looking forward to some refreshing facts. And maybe some tips?
11. The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler This may look like a weird choice on a scientist's booklist but it's one I delight in. Is there anything more fun than Chandler? Philip Marlowe is "every bit as cynical, embittered and humane as Le Carré’s Leamas, but he is a sharper and more loquacious observer of human life. Wickedly joyous." :)
Calvi's TV show, "C dans l'air" is probably the best discussion forum on French TV. Notice what is said about denial of reality (what's called "angélisme"). About recidivism (it is false that prison causes recividism: "prisons do not cause recidivism; recidivists eventually end up in prison"). About impunity (minors know that they risk nothing "je suis mineur, on ne peut rien contre moi"). About the billions wasted (according to the very official Cour de Comptes). About the drug trade. About the changing population. About increasing violence. And more...(in French). If you blog about France or teach students about France, this is a good video to watch and discuss.
Broadcast on October 28, 2015 - two weeks before the Paris Attacks, "Avoir 15 ans dans les banlieues" was watched on TV by 1.7 million people in France.
In 2001, Stephan Templ and Tina Walzer published in German a book entitled Our Vienna,which offered, for the first time, an inventory of businesses and landmarks and other property stolen from Viennese Jews after the Anschluss with Germany in 1938. After filing a claim for his mother, Templ was sentenced to jail on charges that have been described as "Kafkaesque", prompting 75 Holocaust scholars to request that the President of Austria intervene. In attacking Templ, Austria appears to be punishing Templ for his book and attempting to intimidate claimants as well as historians. Background:
- NEW! Write-in Paris (WIP) with Sion Dayson: WIP helps people commit to carving out time and space for their writing. It's like weekly writer dates in the company of good people. Sion will host the 6-week sessions in her home. Each meeting is 2 1/2 hours long (2 hours of focused writing time, 30 minutes of community-building).
- The Paris Writers Group: Meeting on Weds for more than a decade, this group is open to all writers and free (please buy a beverage or food from the host cafe) with John Pope and/or Helen Cusack O’Keeffe.
Schools in France have, for years, suffered from four terrible failures:
1) Inability to help students who are identified as fragile, or weak, or in need of help from their youngest years - thus perpetuating and even exacerbating social inequalities
2) Insufficient teacher training, both initially and as part of continuing education due in part to the preference for investing scarce resources into SELECTION instead of into training (I wrote about this, with as much humor as possible, in Sorbonne Confidential)
3) Failure to replace teachers who are absent in middle school and lycée, which leads to students losing ONE WHOLE YEAR of learning due to absent teachers who are not replaced as well as too few adults in the school.
4) Persistently poor results in foreign language learning, compared to other European countries
This is, of course, just a short list. And (since it is focused on failures) it does not mention the many successes.
The reason I mention it is to provide context for the current battle over what's called the "collège" (middle school) reform.
The first three points - all critical - are not dealt with at all. And the last point (languages) is deliberately made worse: the one thing that worked well will be destroyed.
Following the lead of Francine Prose, Michael Ondaatje, Peter Carey and Teju Cole, the 145 writers below signed a letter protesting the PEN award for "courage and freedom of expression" to Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine whose staff was massacred by Islamists in Paris in January.
We "don't believe in censoring expression" they write, BUT we are against "rewarding" "expression that violates the acceptable".
Violates the acceptable? What can this possibly mean? In this exclusive interview, the Letter explains itself.
Q&A with a Letter
a Paris Writers News interview
PWN: What do you mean by "expression that violates the acceptable"?
Letter: It is expression that might offend someone who we consider to be "marginalized, embattled and victimized".