Monday, 24 April 2017

A Student's Guide to Reading About Politics

A widely-held view is that politics are impenetrable and confusing. How do we, as a disaffected generation, begin to understand and interact with a world that seems far away and meaningless?

Of course, there are no easy answers. The actions of political leaders are often confusing, inconsistent and self-contradictory. There are myriad news outlets, each claiming a monopoly on the truth. But what is the truth? What is it we are trying to get at?

It is tempting, and indeed very easy, to claim it’s “all subjective”, a matter of mere opinion. There is at least some truth to this. There are several vastly different schools of political theory, each with different takes on society, the economy, and the world at large. Separately, as readers, we can read things and disagree with them, or think that they’re mostly right, but a bit off in parts. We might also have fierce disagreements with those around us about any number of social issues.

However there is a sense in which this claim is essentially false. The actual object of political analysis, the endless slew of budgets, policy announcements, economic figures, statistics and opinion polls, is far from subjective. While politicians and media outlets make false or partially inaccurate factual claims fairly frequently, beyond doubting the actual truthfulness of the available information, political analysis is concerned with the interpretation of this information.

Here, then, we must become political analysts, avid interpreters of the news, rather than passive consumers. Because there are so many different possible takes on what is essentially the same data, it is vital that each of us actually process the information that is out there, lest we be deceived or misled by the claims of others. Furthermore, because the world of politics is, on the surface, so detached from our daily lives, unless we undertake this process of analysis, the goings-on of the political world are left virtually meaningless.

An essential part of undertaking this process of analysis is, as obvious as it might seem, developing an understanding of the language of politics. It makes sense: to understand French, you must learn French words. But here “language” does not just refer to terminology.

Rather, it includes in its meaning the network of generally accepted “facts” about the interactions between different political actions and institutions. The collection of news reports and articles on each day’s political events really exist as observations about a reality that is constantly flowing and interacting with itself. It is important to realize this, and to approach the news accordingly. Reading the news isn’t really like reading a novel, or a textbook.

Of course the most essential step to understanding politics is to just start reading the news, but always with a critical perspective, always asking: Is this true? What do they really mean? Why are they reporting on this?

The next six weeks, the run up to the General Election, will see a frenzied rush of news stories and commentaries. If there ever was a time to get engaged, it’s now. The drama of political theatre is going into full-swing, and there’s everything to play for.

If we, as a generation, do not develop a strong political perspective now, then we leave ourselves oblivious and vulnerable. The pretentious and self-interested Youth MPs, prefects and so on do not represent us, and in most cases it was never really their intention to do so. For those who seek to a better society, but are lost as to how to bring change about, a genuine awareness of the political and social realities of today is vital. Beyond simply reading the news, theoretical frameworks can help us see the reality of society today. You needn’t pick up Das Kapital or Discipline and Punish right away, but the era is such that we must either think or perish.

DISCLAIMER: This article, while written as a guide, is comprised of the personal opinions of the author.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

What does the Election Mean for Us?

Just as you thought life was going pretty well - fresh from polishing off the last of your chocolate eggs and a two-and-a-bit week break not thinking about exams - or pretty badly - fresh from being sick from all that chocolate, back to the building site that is school after not revising for two-and-a-bit weeks - Theresa May came along with an extra special treat. Today at 11.15 a.m. Theresa May called a General Election to take place on the 8th of June.

Despite the fact that, thanks to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, she can't actually do this without two-thirds of parliament agreeing, Jeremy Corbyn was quick to rise to the challenge, so the election will doubtless go ahead. As with any election, some A-Level students will be able to vote, but the majority of students will be spectators. However, what will the election mean for all students?

Even though Brexit will likely set the agenda and will make up the greater part of any manifesto, education policy will still make up part of the debate. The last seven years of Tory rule have seen massive upheavals in the examination system - a great many of them coming into full effect as of this year - as well as cuts to schooling across the board and state schools in inner-London like Hampstead in particular, so other parties may seek to reverse some of these changes or offer some wholly new ways of running the education system in this country.

In the coming months, like with the 2015 election, we will attempt to provide information about the policies of the local candidates and the national parties, specifically relating to education and students.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Hampstead School's "Ethos": A Big Red Lie

Like any "good" self-interested institution, Hampstead School, via its website, professes to have an "ethos", as fictional as it might be.

The first of Hampstead's aims is supposedly to "nurture independence and provide the right support enabling students to develop confidence and respect". It simply doesn't follow. The idea that a school led by a ham-fisted authoritarian and his cronies, who foist inane rule after inane rule upon students and teachers can ever "nurture" independence is simply absurd. Rather, it is crushed from students, in a process all too analogous to the mechanical separation of meat and bone. In refusing, by-and-large, to leave any room for student autonomy, Hampstead's management creates and maintains an environment where attempts made by teachers to grant and nurture genuine independence are often as successful as attempts to reanimate the dead. That is, not very. 

Hampstead's second "aim" is to "actively encourage our students to take responsibility for their own learning, recognising them as individuals with their own unique skills and talent". To even pretend that anything like that is encouraged by Hampstead's management, in all its imperiousness, is to be profoundly dishonest, and disgustingly so. This blog, for which a student was expelled, exists solely because we, the students, seek to take responsibility for our own learning. It is entirely at odds with claims that taking said responsibility is encouraged to expel a student for actually doing so.

Of course, beyond the propaganda, the ideal Hampstead student is slavish and unthinking, unwilling to and incapable of, challenging the many wrongs and sustained errors of the school. An ineffective school council, occupied by the navel gazing of those that comprise it, serves only to uphold the illusion that anything like a mainstream student voice exists, redirecting the righteous frustration and dissatisfaction of many at themselves, other students, and teachers, instead of the vile and morally bankrupt system that makes it so. The system that simultaneously forces students into uniforms, while asking that they celebrate (on the appropriate days, in the appropriate ways, such that it is pleasing to the perverted male gaze) their cultural dress. The system that perpetuates, as the legacy of initial "misbehavior", through an elaborate concoction of disciplinary actions, further misbehavior. The system that puts teachers on edge, and wastes their time to no end.

The reality of it is that we are nothing but cash cows. To be milked, poked and prodded into success in a series of perverted pageants: Celebration Evening, the annual Concerts, every exam we ever sit, the slew of poorly composed photographs that hit the London bus circuit every Autumn and so on to infinity. It's almost laughably sad to talk of being "unique" at Hampstead School. The school as an abstract institution is a production line. The pigs go off to market, and they will look and sound "multi-ethnic" as they do it.

Yet another supposed aim of the school is to "encourage our students to develop enquiring minds and to make the most of the many opportunities we offer in school for them to develop morally, spiritually, culturally and socially". The morality of the playground fight. The spirituality of award-worship. The culture of bunking, and the society of the disengaged. If that's what they had in mind, then sure. But if not, then it goes without saying that they are sorely mistaken. It is the fact that this blog is still blocked from the school computers that so clearly refutes any claim that inquiry and thought are encouraged. PSHCE lessons geared to smother dissent also smother thought. A headteacher who knows nothing of his teachers and nothing of his students is not equipped, by any means, to spearhead any sort of cultural or social development. Unless, that is, you take "cultural or social development" to refer to a spiral into subservience and mediocrity - culminating in a beige and pointless existence.  

DISCLAIMER: This is a critical article, and so is comprised of the opinions of the author.    

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Lockers For Hire

Four months since our last report on the lockers, a hiring scheme for lockers has been introduced, with access to them being granted "during [the] first PSHCE lesson of the summer term". 

Via a letter, the Head's natural mode of communication, various policies and stipulations to locker usage are outlined. The hiring fee is £5.00 for for Summer Term 2017, and will be £15.00 for a whole school year. Parents (and guardians) are directed to Hampstead's trendy online payment service, ParentPay, where their hard-earned Dollars Euros Pounds can go towards "purchas[ing] more" lockers.

The first rule outlined in Hampstead's locker policy is that "all lockers remain the property of the school at all times and can be accessed at any time by the school, should the need arise". That means keep your weed, knives and guns somewhere else. The same goes for cookies, donuts and other items of confectionery: the SLT do get hungry.

Lockers are also "not accessible during lessons, except to Sixth Form students". Naturally no real explanation is given for this or any of the policies outlined, but this policy is likely included in an attempt to prevent all the Year 8s from dossing about every lesson of the day.

It is also stated that "Any damage must be reported to the Head of Year.  Cost of repairs will be levied on the hirer, unless it is clear that damage has been caused by a third party". We're not sure what happened to whoever wrote that while they were writing it, but we hope they're okay now. Grammar aside, this rule is slightly suspect. The policy places responsibility by default onto the owners of a locker, and regardless of whether or not that is right, it isn't always possible to demonstrate the guilt of a third party, especially when they may not be known, and "clear" could mean effectively anything an administrator wished it to mean.

While we do sincerely hope the lockers actually function as intended, the school accepts "no responsibility" for the loss of or damage to belongings stored in the lockers, leaving it unclear who would be responsible in the case of an inadvertent mechanical failure.

Owing to shortages, the lockers are only available to some, yet the policy states that "students may not store items for other students". Of course it is difficult to foster a cutthroat ultra-competitive academic environment when you have students helping their friends who haven't been able to get lockers should the need arise, but it probably says something somewhere about cooperation and community on one of trillions of Hampstead's propaganda items...

To read our November 2016 article on the lockers, click here.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Less Than 20% Of "Fresh Trims" Actually Fresh, Study Finds

New research by scientists at The Norf Weezy Institute for Cultural and Aesthetic Studies has revealed that less than 20% of "fresh trims" are actually fresh.

Using complex statistical analysis, the team of leading research scientists based at the Institute for Cultural and Aesthetic Studies were able to determine that pretty much any alteration to ones hairline will garner at least 8 declarations of freshness within the first day, with the second and third days featuring incrementally less praise, until the desperate attempts of a yung yout to counteract the widespread cultural disintegration of the age, by projecting a ready-made conceptual mold in the form of a friendly greeting onto others and their actions, are relegated to the realm of the subconscious.

Crucially however, closer examination revealed that not all trims are created equal, with most trims having a freshness half-life below the legal minimum for freshness:

Where t is the time since the trim, and N is the number of times someone has gone out of their way to say "fresh trim", the formula shows that the verbal accolade afforded to most trims is far less on the second, third and fourth days than it is on the ideal fresh trim as defined by the Aesthetic and Statistics Manual XI. True fresh trims, it has emerged, stay sharper than a buzz-cut for weeks, even months on end, with the approving remarks per day decay ratio being on average 61 times less than the mediocre trims sported by most.

Critics of the study have argued that while the efforts of the Norf Weezy Institute for Cultural and Aesthetic Studies to quantify and calcify the "dynamic and spontaneous Big Other embodied in the vital river of youth culture" are noble, they didn't use a control variable.

DISCLAIMER: This article is a spoof.