The teenage love story never ends well…

As a teacher, I am quick to mock high school romances and denounce them as nonsensical. I mean, the idea that teenagers think they are in love is just ridiculous, isn’t it? Certainly, the amount of drama that it creates on a daily business is beyond belief. The tears and tantrums from teenage girls every time they have a fight or a break-up with a boy they have been ‘dating’ for a week but is, if you can understand them through the incessant sobbing, apparently the love of their life. Of course, a few days later they have moved on and the emotional outbursts begin again when another week passes and the next relationship has run its course. The fact is that most of these so-called relationships never leave the schoolyard and these ‘couples’ develop despite the fact that, in many cases, neither person has even spoken to the other prior to embarking on their romantic coupling. Of course, there are those high school romances that do run a longer course and may even extend into those initial months immediately after graduation, but the reality is that your high school sweetheart isn’t going to be the person with whom you spend the rest of your life. It is ridiculous to think that somebody could possibly find the love of their life from the small pool of potential candidates they encounter in their high school years. There are literally millions of people in the world from which to seek your ideal partner – assuming of course we buy into the notion that we need a partner at all – so why would any right-minded person limit themselves to a selection made from such a limited range. It doesn’t make any sense. It is the very fact that teenage relationships – whether they are formed within a school context or elsewhere – are not destined to extend into anything substantial that drives young people to engage in behaviours that, whilst denounced by the moral overlords as inappropriate, are perfectly logical under the circumstances. Young people root like rabbits and good luck to them. They are not burdened by the emotional, financial or other such entanglements of the real world and therefore should be taking full advantage of these freedoms. Any teenager who is somehow surprised that their boyfriend/girlfriend has also engaged in sexual behaviours with others (whether it be sexting, blowjobs behind the bike shed or an ‘experimental’ encounter with their best friend) is utterly delusional. Being young is about taking the opportunity to experience the full gamut of physical and emotional experiences and to be tied to a relationship that is never really going to go anywhere seems somewhat perverse.

Having said all that, whenever I think back to my high school relationship, it is with nothing but joy. I spent much of my time in the senior years of high school in a relationship with a pretty amazing woman who remains in my thoughts to this day. I have never understood what she saw in me as we were from different worlds. She lived in Clayfield – home of the social elite – while I was entrenched in a dingy flat in New Farm. I can’t even begin to fathom what she must have thought the first time she arrived at my place but, for whatever reason, she stuck around and we stuck together until the end of high school and beyond. Someone from by background and upbringing could never have imagined finding somebody so amazing who would actually be interested in speaking to me, let alone spending extended periods of time with me. I tried my best to treat her right and let her know how special she was and I was thankful for every moment the relationship lasted. I loved everything about her. I loved the way she looked, I loved her smile, I loved her attitude, her maturity and her willingness to put up with my fucked up family without complaint. I loved her body – her legs, her tits, her ass, her cunt – I loved it all. I loved the fact that she was prepared to fuck me and seemed to enjoy it. What’s more, she was good at it. I thought I was in heaven and that it would never end. I just loved being with her. To their credit, her parents seemed to accept – well tolerate at least – the relationship, so obviously I never wanted it to end. Alas, it was not to be because she eventually realised that there were better options than some loser who had passed over his opportunity to go to University to take a job in the public service. I mean, I didn’t really have much choice as I needed an income, it’s not as though I somehow aspired to a life of mind-numbing boredom that a career as a bureaucrat would bring. It did take me a while – far too long in fact – but I am now firmly entrenched in my career as a teacher and I can’t help but wonder if different choices back then would have made a difference to our relationship. Perhaps this just proves my point in that I was absolutely loyal to her and our relationship and I still wasn’t able to hold on to her. It seems that being young really is about experimenting and having fun, rather than trying to convince yourself that you are in love and binding yourself to the restrictions that such a relationship entails.

She has never been far from my thoughts despite the passing of so many years. I have constantly thought about her, what she was doing, where she ended up, who she ended up with? I was very fortunate to reconnect with her recently after a long search and an endless array of dead ends. She responded positively when I first made contact more than 20 years after our parting and I started thinking that maybe a new friendship might be born. We still talk and communicate sporadically, but my expectations that somehow our history and the fact that we still have a lot in common in the way we think might lead to the development of much stronger friendship were, it seems, somewhat misguided. There is definitely a degree of intimacy and familiarity when we talk and those first conversations after such a long absence seemed natural, open and honest. We have shared details of our lives and experiences in patches, but my attempts to get together and catch up in a more substantial way have been rejected at every turn. Maybe it is just her way of saying “yes, look, I’ll talk to you so as not to appear rude, but the thought of spending time with you again does not appeal at all’. Of course, it might just be that whatever it was that drove her away in the first place is still very much at the forefront of my personality.

The reality is that teenagers are never going to stop ‘falling in love’, so I guess we, as teachers and parents, just have to deal with the histrionics and heartbreaks that go with it. I know the lasting impact these tentative explorations of love and intimacy can have on somebody and perhaps that is the reason I am so quick to denigrate these relationships when I see them develop. Perhaps my cynicism is simply driven by a longing for that time in my own life when everything seemed perfect and all was right with my world.

A Place for Me

There are some elements of A Place for Me that fall into the trap of Hollywood genre cliché, but this is not enough to derail what is another otherwise thoroughly enjoyable debut feature from director Josh Boone. No CGI or special effects needed here to tell what is a somewhat simple but mostly engaging story in which Greg Kinnear plays Bill Borgen, a celebrated novelist struggling to pen his next book who cannot accept that his wife Erica (Jennifer Connolly) has left him and is living with another man. Refusing to concede that she has gone forever, Bill habitually spies on her at home and continues to set a place for her at the various holiday dinners for which American families gather each year and have been such fodder for so many celluloid renderings of family dysfunction (just think Home for the Holidays).

Also in the mix on this occasion are Bill’s teenage children Samantha (Lily Collins) and Rusty (Nat Wolff); she a writer having secured a publishing deal for her first book while he is a high school student secretly in love with the seemingly out-of-his-league Kate (Liana Liberato). Collins is somewhat unbelievable in the early scenes of the film in which we are expected to accept her as a bed-hopping commitment-phobe who demands no-strings-attached sex from random men. Reeling from the break-up of her parent’s marriage, Samantha is determined to avoid falling in love at all costs. Of course, it wouldn’t be a movie if there wasn’t a prince charming to sweep her off her feet and quell her cynicism. In this case, the saviour is Lou (Logan Lerman) who refuses to accept her initial rejections of his overtures and ultimately wins her over – the classic “boy looking after his dying mother” trick does it every time.

The Stephen King-obsessed Rusty, on the other hand, lacks the life experiences that Bill believes he needs to become a great writer. Subsequently, Rusty finds himself embroiled in a series of events that ultimately bring him to the rescue of Kate when she is discarded by her arrogant boyfriend. It is this relationship that creates most of the drama, and brings the family together, as Kate’s inability to control her demons leads her into the darkest territory that the film dares explore.

Although enjoying regular liaisons with married neighbour Tricia (Kristen Bell), Bill has made no effort to re-enter the dating realm, such is his conviction that Erica will return to him. This type of role fits Kinnear like a glove and he is perfectly cast as Bill, while Connelly doesn’t have a lot to do as Erica, a mother desperate to reconnect with her daughter. Yes, it all sounds sickly sweet and soppy, but it isn’t. There are great moments of humour and pathos in equal measure and the family is actually one with which it is quite pleasant to spend some time.

Collins is much stronger in the second half of the film and Lerman is great as Lou, the boyfriend who is almost too good to be true. All of the performances are fine, with Bell particularly amusing as the clinically efficient Tricia.

If you like your movies warm, witty and entertaining then A Place for Me should fit the bill.

The Place Beyond the Pines

Despite its undeniable qualities, The Place Beyond the Pines will no doubt leave many viewers disappointed.  They shouldn’t be dissatisfied with the performances from any of the key players in this expansive narrative, nor should they be disappointed with the direction from Derek Cianfrance, however they may come away frustrated that the movie they have seen is nothing at all like the movie that features in the trailers and television advertisements, or any of the marketing for that matter.  Pitched as an action-packed crime caper with Ryan Gosling front and centre of the narrative, the film is much, much more than that.  In fact, almost all of the action sequences, which are very well staged, are over before the film reaches the halfway point.

The Place Beyond the Pines is considerably more subdued than any of the pre-release publicity would have us believe.  Once Gosling’s motorcycle stuntman Luke meets his maker at the hands of rookie cop Avery (Bradley Cooper), the movie shifts gear into an examination of police corruption and how the lingering legacy of events from the past continue to haunt future generations.  With Gosling’s early demise, Cooper steps up to assume the lead as a conflicted cop tormented about his role in the death of  a young father and his subsequent exposure to the underbelly of a small town police force that is rotten to the core.  Sacrificing his marriage along the way, Avery’s career continues on an upward trajectory that carries him all way to the Attorney-General’s office despite the best efforts of his teenage son AJ (Emory Cohen) whose utter lack of conscience and regard for anybody else extends beyond teenage cliché into much nastier material, the motivation for which is never really explained.

The performances are all very strong, with Eva Mendes a standout as Romina a mother forced to reconcile the actions of her past with the consequences they reap long into the future. Gosling and Cooper are also excellent and Australia’s Ben Mendelsohn is equal parts menacing and pathetic as Robin, a mechanic with a criminal past who lures Luke – desperate to provide financial support to the son he never knew he had and reclaim Romina as his own – into a series of bank heists that end tragically. Ray Liotta always brings something special to the equation and this occasion is no exception, his turn as morally bankrupt police detective Deluca is creepy to the core.

The talented Rose Byrne is very much under utilised in her role as Avery’s wife Jennifer. The beautiful Australian actress really doesn’t get to do much other than complain about, and ultimately divorce, Avery after he is shot in a showdown with Luke that renders him a hero of the eyes of everybody else in their community.

Derek Cianfrance is a good film maker and his previous effort Blue Valentine, which also features Gosling, was a bleak but thoroughly engaging drama. He has done a good job here again in eliciting great performances from a diverse cast to construct a gripping – and necessarily long given the breadth of the narrative – drama that can be compared favourably with any other release so far this year.  Just be warned, as good as it might be, it is not the film you think it is.

Let’s talk about sex…

 When are we going to get serious in the way we engage with young people about sex and sexuality?  News Flash: young people are having sex!  It is happening younger than ever before and with so much ready access to negative depictions of sex and sexual behaviour through the internet and digital communications, it beggars belief that parents and educators continue to bury their head in the sand when it comes to developing strategies to initiate meaningful dialogue with young people about sex and sexual behaviour.    

Let’s stop pretending that sex is not happening amongst teenagers and adolescents and instead focus on how we can make these experiences better, safer, more enjoyable and respectful, for all involved.  Just resorting to hackneyed old ‘safe sex’ lectures and warnings about sexually transmitted infections is ineffective, particularly when they are not supported by initiatives that would assist young people in gaining easy access to condoms or the contraceptive pill. Surely we are better off incorporating these messages into much broader, sophisticated strategies that will provide meaningful information about all aspects of the sexual experience.

Yes, making sure young people are protecting themselves from pregnancy and STI’s is very important, but surely it is just as important that they are thinking beyond consequences.  After all, whilst wearing a condom might be safer for all concerned, it doesn’t mean that the sex will be respectful or mutually satisfying.  Then again, maybe that is the strategy.  Let them fumble around clueless in the hope that the experience will be so bad that they will never want to do it again. Seems unlikely, doesn’t it?

Surely it is better for all concerned that young people are enjoying their sexual experiences and treating each other with respect, rather than just whacking on a condom and going hell for leather for two minutes. It is particularly important that young women are empowered to demand a sexual experience that is pleasurable and in which their role is more than simply being a notch in the belt of a boy whose tactics and skill in luring them into bed are infinitely more creative than anything they produce when they get there. Teenage sex does not have to be ‘wham, bam, thankyou ma’m” moments in which young women are almost rendered inconsequential to the entire experience.

Yes, by all means, place a strong emphasis on messages advocating safe sex, but let’s also engage in open dialogue about how to have good sex. This is particularly important in a world in which explicit, hard core pornography is available online at the click of a mouse. Such imagery creates false representations of what sex is supposed to be like and puts pressure on young men to put pressure on young women to replicate these quite often extreme scenarios.   Research undertaken by the Children’s Commissioner in Great Britain recently found that 100 per cent of Year 9 boys – 14 year olds – were accessing pornography.  Furthermore, about 50 per cent of the girls were looking at porn, but most insisted they were being made to by the boys.  Anybody who thinks that things are different in Australia is kidding themselves.

Instead of just ignoring the fact that young people are accessing pornography which, for many of them given the unwillingness of parents and educators to talk openly about such matters is the only ‘instruction’ they are receiving, we need to make young people understand that these scenarios are not typical and are constructed for purposes of entertainment and titillation rather than the pleasure of the participants. Engaging in mature, open discussions with teenagers and adolescents about sex might actually result in a more mature approach to the way they go about their sexual practices.

Even the mainstream media is becoming increasingly sexualised which, in itself, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as we make sure that young people are able to discern between the fantasy realms of the sex and sexual scenarios they see in films and on television and the practical realities of their own sexual experiences.  It is important that young people realise that the explosive orgasms (faked) and ridiculously over-the-top (and sometimes quite violent) and often degrading sexual practices they encounter in both pornography and more mainstream fare is far removed from anything they are ever likely to experience.  Instead of trying to emulate these scenarios, young people need to be seeking more meaningful and realistic experiences in which genuine pleasure (for all participants), rather than spectacle, is the priority. Whilst it is ridiculous to expect teenagers to accept that sex and love are intrinsically linked, having young people understand that the act needs to be one of mutual pleasure is important.  Boys shouldn’t be using girls to ‘dump and run’ and girls shouldn’t have to tolerate bad sex because they don’t know any better.  Of course, the mutual pleasure principle should apply across all types of relationships regardless of gender and/or sexual orientation.  After all, if you are going to do anything, you should want to do it well.

Of course, a key ingredient to young people becoming more adept at sex revolves around breaking down the taboos associated with discussion around those things such as masturbation.  The old ‘you keep doing that and you will go blind’ is still regarded by many parents and the only dialogue in which they are prepared to engage when they stumble across their teenage son wanking furiously or discover the crusty coating of their cum-stained sheets.  Sometimes, of course, such realisations might result in parents attempting to mask the awkwardness or embarrassment they feel by dismissing it as merely what ‘teenage boys do’, and hoping that it will never, ever be discussed again.  This attitude, of course, doesn’t do anything to alleviate the stress that young men endure as a result of the clandestine nature of what they are doing and their constant fear of being ‘caught’, as if to suggest that this is somehow an act of which they should be ashamed or embarrassed. As for girls and masturbation, it seems to me that adults, by and large, don’t want to acknowledge that this even happens, let alone discuss it amongst themselves or, heaven forbid, with their children.

Given that girls probably have the most to gain through such explorations of their own bodies and developing an awareness about what is, and isn’t, pleasurable, to provide them with knowledge and the confidence to make their subsequent sexual experiences more enjoyable, surely these are the conversations that parents should be prepared to have if they are serious about ensuring their daughter is ready to navigate the prickly path that is teenage sexuality.

Yes, there are dangers in the ever-increasing sexualisation of western society and there is cause for concern around areas such as the almost epidemic nature of ‘sexting’ or the distribution of sexualised (often quite explicit) imagery between young people online and via digital devices. Furthermore, the constant bombardment of advertising and imagery espousing the virtues of penis enlargement or plastic surgery procedures to make better (sexier?) bodies for women, along with the boom in industries dedicated entirely to the removal of body hair (there seems to be a waxing salon on every corner) which, it seems to me, exist purely to enable/encourage young women to replicate the look of pre-pubescence and/or replicate what they are being told through porn and other media imagery is the expectation of men (heck, even the recent film release Trance saw Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) remove all of her pubic hair to make her more sexually appealing to James McAvoy’s Simon), is something that perhaps needs to examined more closely. 

Obviously part of any efforts to open the lines of communication between young people and the broader community does need to include frank discussion and education about the potential dangers and long-term ramifications of rash decisions such as sexting or succumbing to media pressures to conform to particular body types and/or behaviours, but we need to do this as part of a much broader and more mature approach to engaging young people in open and honest discussions about sex, sexuality and sexualised behaviour.

In my experience, any attempts to discuss such matters with young people (whether it be from parents, teachers or others such as school nurses and the like) have either retreated to the safe ground of encouraging abstinence or have been nothing more than condescending ‘safe sex’ presentations where they might show demonstrate how to put on a condom or try to scare the bejesus out of people with images of infected genitals or treatise on the hardships to be endured as a result of teen pregnancy.  All of this, including strategies to ensure that young people clearly understand precepts such as consent, is not without merit if delivered in a way in which those giving the information are not obviously wishing they could be anywhere else.  However, none of this is going to stop young people having sex, often times which might not be under the best circumstances, such as succumbing to pressure from a partner, errors in judgment or being taken advantage of in some way or simply as a reaction to the sex that pervades every aspect of popular culture.  However, this is not always the case and it is important, I think, that young people engaging in sex are armed with the knowledge to make these experiences something to be cherished and enjoyed rather than awkward, embarrassing or downright unpleasant.

NAPLAN is no plan

If we are talking education, we might as well start with the elephant in the room; in thousands of classrooms across the country actually.  This is the beast that is NAPLAN.  This week students around Australia will be subjected to this supposed guide to the literacy and numeracy ability of students in grades 3, 5, 7 and 9.  What a load of bollocks.  As a teacher and a parent I am more convinced than ever that NAPLAN is a complete waste of time.  NAPLAN tells us which kids have the ability to do NAPLAN well and that’s about it and, even then, there is fair chance that many of them have simply guessed their way through any multiple choice components.

 The fact of the matter is that NAPLAN has schools running scared.  So worried about what their NAPLAN data will say, school administrators have thrown all logic and common sense out the window (not to mention the curriculum) in an effort to train students in the art of passing this test.  This whole exercise has become nothing more than a pissing contest between school administrators with little regard to what is really in the best interests of students.  NAPLAN means nothing to students.  For them, it is a pointless distraction that has no real relevance to what they are learning, and should be learning, in the classroom.  It is simply a mechanism by which school prinicpals and teachers can espouse their own “credentials” and sell themselves to the community as “leaders” and “innovators” whose “passion” for teaching has carried these students to success. Give me a break. Isn’t it interesting though when NAPLAN results are not so good, the same people are quick to blame the socio-economic circumstances of the community, the (lack of) effort/support from parents or the easiest targets of all – the students themselves. These self-proclaimed superstars of the profession are noticeable in their silence when the NAPLAN results data – which come so long after the tests are held as to have no real value at all – shows that their school has suddenly plummeted down what are nothing more than – despite claims to the contrary by the Government – league tables ranking the “quality” of schools based purely on NAPLAN outcomes.  What a sad state of affairs for education in Australia.

 Such is the pressure to achieve in NAPLAN, schools are taking more and more drastic measures.  One secondary school I know of (and I’m sure there are plenty of others) suspended the entire Year 9 English curriculum for two weeks, opting instead for two weeks of NAPLAN practice tests designed not to improve numeracy and literacy skills amongst students, but simply to achieve a better result on the NAPLAN test.  It is, pure and simple, a marketing exercise with schools so focussed on securing a spot near the head of the table that nothing else matters, including the best interests of the students.  Subjecting students to an endless array of practice tests is counter-productive because they are well and truly “over it” by the time the real test comes around and have no real desire to take the test seriously – and nor should they.  Those students who excel get used by the school to sell how “great” the school is with regard to the teaching programs and the people who implement them, but the student gets very little tangible benefit from “succeeding” in the test. The reality is that such a student would probably have secured the exact same result regardless of which school they are attending. Furthermore, there are no guarantees that a student who blitzes the literacy or numeracy component of the NAPLAN testing regime will actually achieve great results where it matters, in the classroom and on subsequently on their report cards. There have been countless examples of students who rank somewhere near the top of the NAPLAN tree yet don’t achieve a passing grade in English or other subjects.  Likewise, students excelling in class work often perform poorly in NAPLAN and are therefore diagnosed as having poor literacy and/or numeracy skills when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Of course, the disruptions to curriculum delivery has a significant impact on the continuity of learning within the classroom and the negative impact on the development of the literacy and numeracy skills of students outweigh any possible benefit that NAPLAN could bring.  But, of course, that doesn’t matter because real education outcomes – that is, results from a diverse range of assessment instruments across a wide range of contexts – are not published in newspapers and online, so who cares?   Teachers should care, parents should care and anybody interested in ensuring our schools are delivering content and measuring outcomes in a way that is fair, logical and valuable should care.  There is so much evidence to suggest that this kind of testing does not improve overall academic outcomes, yet we persist.

The sooner schools stand up and say enough is enough and move the focus away from NAPLAN and back to real teaching, learning and assessment that caters for the needs and styles of all students, the better our educational outcomes will be.

It starts now…

Welcome to Mr C says…

I have always found myself with a lot to say about pretty much everything and I have decided it is time for an outlet through which I can vent my frustrations with the world.  I do not suffer fools gladly and this blog is my avenue to expunge my pent up frustrations with all that is wrong with the world.  Amidst my tirades and random ponderings, maybe there will be something here that amuses, enlightens or angers you; any of which is fine.   I don’t expect everybody to agree with everything (or anything ) I say. After all, somebody has to be wrong, so it may as well be you. 

I am a teacher who is passionate about education and I will be sharing opinions and anecdotes from my experience in the classroom, exploring everything that is good, bad and ugly about the the education system here in Queensland, Australia. I love working with young people and helping them realise their full potential. I don’t like having to constantly battle against the forces (bureaucrats, parents etc) that seem hell bent on making school anything but the safe, enjoyable, enlightening and educational experience it should be. 

I enjoy photography and I may share my somewhat mediocre efforts with you on here from time to time.  However, to get a headstart on the haters, I know my limitations and I am certainly not one of these pretentious “I’m a genius and if you don’t like my art you obviously just don’t understand” wankers whose ineptitude is only outweighed by their over-inflated sense of their own ability.  I take photos of things I like.  They aren’t masterpieces but they mean something to me and I enjoy taking them.  Simple really.

I have lived in Brisbane almost my entire life, although I have travelled extensively around Australia and overseas as well.  I have seen this city transform from hick town to vibrant metropolis and I am no longer embarrassed to say I am from Brisbane.  I particularly love the vibrant, bohemian inner-city locales such as Fortitude Valley, New Farm and West End.  As time goes by, I will no doubt share recollections, regrets and ruminations on my experiences and interactions with this city.  

I will also offer my thoughts, opinions and expertise on all things media, arts and popular culture, so keep an eye on the Reviews page.

So strap in and hold on because, in the words of Karen Carpenter, “we’ve only just begun”.

Mr C

Our Education System