I just went into grade nine and yesterday I had my first day at school. Except I wasn’t at school. During my time in middle school in the Netherlands we did online schooling but it wasn’t very planned out and was very chaotic. I still had to do all of my subjects and tests but it all had to happen online. Here it was very different. Today I had my first day at the actual school and (although there was a little bit of confusion) everything went pretty well.
We only have two subjects we have to work on in each quad (1/4 of the school year) which brings us to eight subjects over the whole year. It’s still surreal, transitioning from 16 subjects to 2. It’s also very nice though because you can really focus on one thing and not get mixed up with other subjects.
As for the guidelines, masks are mandatory in any public place inside the building. Unlike a lot of people you see in grocery stores or malls all the teenagers wear their mask correctly over their nose. Especially at this age everyone wants to fit it and in some instances that can be harmful but in this case it saves lives. There are many other restrictions such as directional arrows in the hallway and mandatory social distancing.
The schedule everyone has is also very different. It’s a four day schedule where the students are at school every other day and at home every other day. Even on the days that we are at school it is only a half day so most of our time is spent online. All of this is in huge contrast to the Netherlands (where I lived for 10 years).
Like a lot of other countries they decided to pretend covid-19 was over and everything went back to normal. There are no restrictions in any of the school and no social distancing or masks. This is most likely one of the main contributors to a huge spike in the Netherlands, which is now even bigger then the first main one. I’m very glad for all the guidelines that the TDSB (Toronto district school board) has placed and I admire how hard they’ve worked to minimize the spread of covid-19 in schools.
This post will be dedicated to giving you the background information that lead to the current mass protests in Belarus. Alexander Lukashenko is often said to Europe’s last dictator because of the fact that he holds most of the power in Belarus and because Belarus has suffered under his authoritarian rule for five full terms of his presidency. Under Lukashenko’s reign the Belarusian government has often suppressed the opposition in numerous ways. Only the first of six elections Lukashenko won was credibly deemed fair by international monitors.
Almost a hundred of Belarusian government officials have been subject to personal sanctions from the U.S and Europe for, among others, electoral fraud, forced disappearances and repression of the opposition. Lukashenko has faced much public outcry for his actions over the last 20 years as president but there are a few reasons that the Belarusian people have finally had enough. He is handling the coronavirus pandemic very poorly, denying that it was a serious threat. He formally arrested two of the oppositions candidates, claiming he foiled a “coup attempt”. He has repeatedly committed electoral fraud and has suppressed the opposition.
Protests against Lukashenko have been going on for over a decade but now the Belarusians have finally had enough. Until recently these protests have been leaderless but the huge protests that are happening now were initiated by the blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski. He openly criticized Lukashenko on his blog and YouTube channel. He also went around Belarus asking people what they thought of the president, and it turned out the vast majority did not approve of him. In late may of 2020 Tsikhanouski got arrested on false charges of being a foreign agent. This is how the protests in June started.
In the Netherlands the grading system is a bit different then in a lot of other countries. Instead of getting letters or percentages you get numbers. Those numbers range from a 1-10. One is the equivalent of getting everything wrong and ten is the equivalent of getting everything right. In my school the pass was a 5.5. In grade 7 getting 65% right would get you a 5.5. In my opinion that was a reasonable rule. Then, when I got into grade 8, we had to get 75% of the questions right to pass. No matter how high you score on a standardized test I don’t think kids should have that high of a passing margin. Because of this margin many kids are happy with 5.5’s or 6’s. The culture of sixes (“zesjes cultuur” in Dutch) is something that teachers use to describe this phenomenon.
I’ve heard teachers complaining about the culture of sixes many times in the hallways or in classrooms and I always get triggered by it. They claim it’s the kids fault that students are getting these barely passing grades, and maybe it is to some degree, but they don’t realize that their education system is promoting the culture of sixes. I’m not going to lie and say that I never agreed with them because I did for a while. While on a sabbatical in Canada I went to grade seven for four months. In these four months I was expected to get 80% or higher in my grades and I did. Most people in my class would be sad if they got anything lower. It was like this everywhere so when I went to Dutch secondary school I was totally surprised to see kids happy with barely passing grades.
After a while though I came to realize that it was less the fault of the kids and more of the system. They have an exam week that requires kids to remember material from 14-16 different subjects so it’s no wonder things get mixed up. They don’t teach us good study habits and this leads to it being very difficult for kids to remember everything well enough. All of this leads to kids being happy with mediocrity and I know almost no one in my school that strove for excellence instead.
Next I want to talk about choice, or lack thereof, in the Dutch secondary school system. In Canada some schools have something called a semestered school system. In Canada there are three semesters a year and in each one there are a set of mandatory subjects that you have to take and a set of of subjects that you can choose from. This way you can explore your interests and see what motivates you. It also lets you do this without the added pressure of many different subjects at the same time.
In the Dutch secondary school system there are very little choices you are allowed to make, especially near the beginning of secondary school. You only get to choose a set of subjects once you are in grade 10 and even then you have a lot of mandatory subjects. This leads to kids being unmotivated and uninspired because they have to do what everyone else is doing and they can’t follow their own interests. There was a kid in my class who was really into technology and who would constantly talk about it but after a year he started failing technology because he had to get his other grades up. Eventually the same kid even ended up staying back a grade. Choice is very important in schools and all kids should have the ability to work on what inspires them.
This is the last post in this series and I would like to give a huge that thanks to Jan Bransen who has been posting the posts in this series on his twitter page. As always all feedback is welcome and constructive criticism is much appreciated. I hope you enjoyed reading this series and I also hope that you keep reading my other posts.
To start off I would like to say that in my last post I may have overgeneralized when I said that many of my teachers didn’t actually teach. This is only my experience with my school and I don’t know much about other schools. I would also like to clarify that the reason that many kids didn’t ask questions wasn’t because every teacher didn’t like questions, but more because there were some teachers who didn’t and that left the kids thinking the same about other teachers. I am also not writing all of this for the purpose of just complaining about my experience in Dutch secondary school. Instead I am trying to inspire change with my writing. With that out of the way let’s get on to the post.
When I was in a Dutch secondary school I had 16 different subjects. Most kids in my school had 14 but I chose to take Latin and Greek as well. My Canadian friends thought this number was absurd. Kids who live in North America only get 8-10 subjects. Because it was the only thing I had known, I thought that 16 subject was normal. I know it sounds weird that I, the person that chose to have two extra subjects, should be complaining about this.
I had no idea what to expect when I went to secondary school. How was someone like me — for whom everything was easy in elementary school and who was told that he was “gifted” — supposed to know that I would start failing classes because of the amount of work that was suddenly demanded of me. I thought that studying six languages would be easy. Instead six languages turned out to be overwhelming.
Almost every school system in the world has some kind of finals system where you take all these different tests for a week and your scores determine which colleges you can apply to. The thing that most school systems don’t have is an exam week four times a year, every year, in secondary school. For all my non-Dutch readers, here is an explanation of the testing that happens in Dutch secondary school: in the Netherlands, instead of having tests at different times in the semester, there is an exam week every semester (there are four semesters in the Netherlands because the summer vacation is six weeks long). These exam weeks consist of one test for each of your subjects (not including things like P.E or music).
This testing system is one of the things in Dutch secondary school that I most passionately object to. Students find it too challenging to cram information from 16 different subjects into their head and store all of it there for one week. And it isn’t just overly difficult for the students but it is also very ineffective. Not only does a quarter of the class fail for each test, but many of the kids that pass pass by a small margin. And then, after all that work, we forget all of that information within days. It makes so much more sense to have tests throughout the year and let kids balance the studying for those tests with normal school life; and it also lets them study the information of single subjects without having other subjects interfere.
I didn’t have enough time to get into the culture of sixes this post but I will definitely do that next post. I will also talk about choice, or lack thereof, in the Dutch secondary school system. Thank you for taking the time to read this post and I hope you leave some constructive criticism for me in the comment section. Also remember to come back tomorrow for part 4!
As I said in my last post, there is no middle school in the Netherlands. You just go straight to high school for six years. I strongly disagree with this system because middle school gives kids, who may not have gotten great grades in elementary school, the time to get their grades up and go to a good school. This should be especially important in the Dutch school system because the scores you get on your standardized test in primary school determines what school and, by extension, what university kids go to.
The other thing that middle school does is that it doesn’t already start splitting kids into groups of the “dumb” kids and the “smart” kids. This gives the kids a chance to get motivated and inspired by things they find interesting. Kids cannot really think about their future and what job they get at 10 or 11 years old. Yet they get forced to take tests that determine exactly that. It makes so much more sense to have middle school and decide what schools kids can go to by at least 13 or 14. It also makes a lot more sense to base it on overall grades and study habits instead of standardized tests that you cannot study for.
Now to what I experienced in the actual school. One observation that I made about the Dutch secondary school system was that it has basically stayed exactly the same for the past 70 years except for the fact the we now have laptops. There are barely any modern teaching methods that are used and most classes teach the same things that were taught in the 1950’s. There are no new classes that have been added even though there are so many new thing that need to be taught for application in the modern world. But it’s not just that nothing new is being added. The curriculum has also barely changed for most classes. We are learning the same material in the same way as 70 years ago.
One thing that you would expect of teachers it that they teach, right? Well unfortunately that is not the case in the Dutch secondary school system. Out of my 16 teachers (yes I had 16 different classes, that is something I will get into next post) only one actually taught the class. The rest of the teachers would sit at their desk, tell you what assignments you should make, and then prowl menacingly around the classroom in case someone was on their phone.
Sure once in a while they would go over our homework with us but even then all they did was read the answers to the questions. And the kids didn’t ask questions to most teachers because they would get mad at them. And it wasn’t just that they didn’t teach us the material. They also didn’t teach us any study habits or good ways to study for their subject. So most kids didn’t know what to do besides reading the textbook over and over, without taking any notes.
In my next post I will talk about the amount of subjects that kids had. I will also talk about exam week and something called the sixes culture. all feedback is welcome so please leave some constructive criticism so I can improve for my future posts. I hope you enjoyed reading this and remember to check out part three tomorrow.
After much anticipation and planning my family and I have finally moved back to Canada from the Netherlands indefinitely. We had lived in the Netherlands for ten years when we moved back and two out of those ten years for me was spent going to Dutch middle/high school. So first off something that you need to know about the Dutch secondary school is that it is not split up between middle school and high school. Instead you just spend grade seven up to grade 12 in the same school. This may seem like it could save you a lot of hassle in terms of not changing schools twice but later on I will explain why this is far from ideal.
The change from primary to secondary school in the Netherlands is something that will determine what job you can get and what schools you can go to. In grade 5 the results of your standardized tests will already determine which schools you are allowed to go to. In grade six you do another set of standardized tests but in these your evaluation cannot go lower then the results of your tests in grade 5, Although they can get higher it happens only very rarely. Some kids, including myself, are good at taking standardized tests but in my opinion this system is completely unfair to many kids.
First of all, your evaluation is purely determined on your standardized test scores. You can be the kid that constantly sticks your hand up during class and answers questions correctly. You can ace non-standardized tests and still go to the worst school. If you mess up one time because of test anxiety then your whole future goes down the drain. And I find it especially unfair because standardized testing is not based on your study habits but instead based on thing that you remembered during class. It’s impossible to study for standardized testing so that makes it extremely hard for kids that have trouble remembering things, or even just kids who have a different way of processing information then the way that the teacher teaches the material.
This leads to smart kids going to bad schools that teach them that they’re dumb and that they should focus on physical work. And I am not just saying this in the abstract. A few months before the Corona virus pandemic started I was sitting on a bus on the way back from school. There were three kids behind me that were about my age. One kid was trying to have a discussion with another about Tesla. I forget exactly what it was about but the second kid said something along the lines of “I’m VMBO (one of the lowest evaluations) so why are you asking me, I’m super dumb anyway”. I find this super sad and I wish the Dutch school system inspired kids to try to still work hard and find something they love.
In my next post I will talk about why I think middle school is a great idea. I will also talk about the actual experience for me inside one of the best secondary schools in the province. All feedback is welcome and I would love some constructive criticism. I hope you enjoyed the post and please make sure to read part 2 tomorrow.
Many people are protesting the death of George Floyd and other deaths because of police brutality. In my opinion this is a great thing to do and is raising a lot of awareness. Unfortunately not much has been done about it yet. But, unlike what the media is portraying, this kind of injustice does not just happen in western countries. We all know, in the back of our minds that countries like China are suppressing their people and completely violating human rights (I will get to the specifics later). But we don’t really analyze it and think about it deeply. Of course we need to stand up for the rights of people anywhere that there is injustice but because of western media that usually gets narrowed down to countries like the US.
Now, and I can’t stress this enough, I think that we should not disregard the oppression of people in western countries at all because of this. It would be like saying to someone who had just got dumped that kids are starving in Africa. The greater suffering of one does not mean that your suffering is inconsequential. But, just like in the example that I gave it does not mean that we shouldn’t do anything about the other sides suffering.
I don’t blame people for not knowing that, for example, there are still concentration camps in China and North Korea, because 90% of people don’t get exposed to this kind of information by their news sources. So that is why the people who do know must spread awareness about it. Recently, three Iranian boys were sentenced to execution because they were caught protesting against the oppressive rule of their government. Here you can see an Iranian journalist expressing how helpless she feels knowing that she can do almost nothing except for spreading awareness, and even then she is putting her life in danger.
But this isn’t about this one situation or about this one country. These kinds of things happen in many places. China is one of the countries of which people know a little bit more about, in terms of the injustice that happens there. This is mainly because of the large media coverage of thing like the Tiananmen Square Massacre and the Hong Kong protests. But even then many people do not know the horrific details, like illegal airstrikes of tear gas on protesters. The thing about these countries that so blatantly violate human rights, is usually one of two things. These two things are also opposites. On the one hand countries like China provide so many products that other country’s rely on them, economically. On the other hand it’s third world countries that are so pour that the big western countries don’t care about them.
A big trend among these nations is their freedom restrictions and corrupt government. Things like not being allowed to talk about the government or not being allowed to access specific websites. In China people suddenly “disappear” a few days after they put something on their blog criticizing their government. In India the police beat up some people of a lower caste, and their superiors turn a blind eye. My mom is a game designer and about a year ago she was on a call with a Chinese gaming company. During the call someone accidentally said the word government, and suddenly the call was hung up. This happened a few times during the call. It was also at this point that I started to understand and research more of these phenomenons.
The point of this post is not to point out specific situations in these countries (although I may do more in depth posts at a different time), but merely to bring awareness to people that don’t know that these things are happening. The mainstream media is much more focused on things like US politics or Brexit. Many people believe that we live in a world were thing like slavery and child labor don’t exist anymore, but all we know is what the media that they consume tells them.
You might be wondering: what can I do to help? I wondered this myself to and came to the conclusion that I actually can’t do that much. People with a platform, like a politician or a journalist may be able to do something bigger, but what about us, people without a platform. The main thing that almost everybody can do, although it may not seem like much, is raise awareness. The first step to solving big problems is making people aware that they exist. The more of us that know about this, the more content creators and journalists start to know about this. Then the media might finally start covering it and that will bring the attention of politicians. Then the politicians will have to start doing something about it. A few months ago the media was barely covering the black lives matter movement, but now it’s all over the news and politicians have to include their statements about it and what they will do if they get elected. So just one person, like you or me, telling some of your friends about this, may seem inconsequential, but if they do the same it makes a huge difference.
So in my last blog post I talked about the book Circe, but it was a very surface level review and I wanted to go a little bit more in depth about how the book shows all these Greek heroes from a female perspective. In the many stories about Greek heroes like Odysseus or Agamemnon they are portrayed as the good guy, but in Circe it shows these stories in a perspective that portrays them as more human and less heroic, not necessarily bad, but just different.
But in these stories about mythological characters they don’t really hide parts of the story, but they do tell it in way that manipulate your thinking. In Circe you realize that Odysseus did kill hundreds of men, betrayed some, and led all of his men to die; and to think that I felt bad for Odysseus instead of his men when they were dying. But Circe doesn’t only change your perspective on these stories everyone has heard, but it also changes your view on a bunch of smaller characters in Greek mythology.
For example: a ship wrecked at Circe’s island with many hungry men in it and they found Circe’s house. Circe let them come in and gave them all food and drink, but once they found out that there was no man in the house they stopped being nice and polite and instead took turns raping her. It just goes to show how many male characters who can be seen as the “good guys” are just seen that way by the context, when in reality they would commit these atrocious crimes in an instant.
Circe is book that tells the tale of a lesser know Greek goddess named Circe. She is the daughter of the sun god Helios and the nymph Perse. Circe grows up in a household were she is not respected. Her siblings all had powers but Circe could never do anything special. They constantly make fun of her for having a hoarse voice and not looking pretty. She finds an ancient source of power called Pharmakai and she learns from her grandmother that it is forbidden. Pharmaka is a type of plant you can make powerful potions and spells out of. She makes use of it in a wrong way and Zeus banishes her to a deserted island in the middle of the ocean.
There she spends hundreds of years and experiences many things. She learns how to make these types of potions gradually but over time she becomes very experienced. Many voyagers and ships came to her island, among the most notable, Odysseus and Hermes. She find a long lost cousin and go’s into the depths of the ocean to find an ancient and powerful weapon to protect her son. She faces off against Athena and turns a crew of men into pigs. She has all these new experiences that she could never have at her father’s palace and, although some weren’t pleasant, they were hers and that is one thing that she couldn’t have living with the other nymphs and titans.
My experience with the book:
This book may sound like something that you need to know a lot of Greek mythology to enjoy, but it is written in a way that you don’t feel like you missing out on anything if you don’t know. Both my parents read this book and they both enjoyed it very much, even though they didn’t know much about Greek mythology. But it is definitely a different experience and for me it was very cool to see how this book portrayed all these gods and mythological figures, as well as giving a very different viewpoint on some people. For example it showed you a perspective of Ulysses odyssey that I totally had not gotten from reading it my self in the past. And it doesn’t even do it by changing his story, instead it just tells it to you in way that makes you pay attention to the details that make Odysseus a lot less heroic and a bit more like an ordinary man who is not all honorable and more devious than I had thought.
It’s also very interesting to see how there are these huge, extensive stories about these small gods that most people haven’t heard of and it also makes you think about how all of these gods probably have an amazing story but we just don’t know about it. I think this book did a very good job of making you really understand how Circe felt throughout the book and I also think it did a great job with portraying very popular gods from a different angle. The writing was also superb and very intelligent. All in all I would recommend this book to anybody who likes fiction and a bit of fantasy. I would also recommend this to anybody who knows a lot about Greek mythology as well as people who don’t because it’s great either way.
Stranger in a strange land begins with a man who was raised on mars, Mike, being found and coming to earth. Here Jill meets him in the hospital she works at. Her friend Ben Caxton finds out he is owed trillions of dollars because he inherited huge amounts of stocks a large space company that sent people to mars. They find out that many people are after him for his money and Jill takes him away from the hospital when suddenly Ben disappears. Jill go’s to a friend of Ben’s, Jubal Harshaw, and stays there for a while, finding out all these weird things that Mike can do. They find out he can make things disappear, levitate and stop his heartbeat.
But Mike is still very uneducated in human nature. He can read an encyclopedia and remember every word in it but most words require him to know other words that he doesn’t know. Eventually, after Ben is found, Mike goes with Jill out in to the real world and he begins learning normal ways to communicate with people and he starts seaming more and more normal. But when he finally has a breakthrough and really understands humans. He goes on to create a weird kind of church that is not really about a religion. It’s about learning the martian language and gaining the kinds of power that Mike has. It’s also about learning the martian ways and getting rid of human idiosyncrasies. Although other churches aren’t too happy about it, Mike’s “church” somehow managed to get out of many sticky situations. Mike gets many of his old friends from Jubal’s household to join him but after that they get in a situation they may not be able to escape out of.
My experience with the book:
This book was a little bit of a difficult one for me and I didn’t get into as fast as other books I have read. But the farther along I got the more I could really see the genius behind this amazing writing and storytelling. At first I thought it was just a regular part of the book, that Mike was slowly learning human customs but later on I realized that it was exposing all these idiosyncrasies that humans have, and the writer did it in such an great way that I didn’t even realize he was doing it. Especially later on in the book it made it seem like so many things that we do regularly are stupid and don’t make any sense. But it’s not all super serious. It also has a nice element of comedy that doesn’t undermine the more serious topics but instead balances it out very nicely. The character development is also superb and you really feel connected to the characters. All in all I would recommend this book to most mature audiences if you like fiction and I think most people would really like it.