Tuesday, November 24, 2009

proliferation of resemblances

I had a curious lesson today... not really planned but turned out great. By not really I mean my course calendar said "Complete 4E, intro 4F" -- sounds exciting, eh? We did two current event (Global video) stories: troubles with a ferry on the crossing from Rupert to Skidegate, and a helicopter tour of 2010 Olympics venues. Then a video clip on the 1858 BC Goldrush and a lesson looking back from 1858 on what we've already learned and a look ahead to BC joining Canada. Hmm... this could have gone many ways, but a couple of connections were made and this turned out to be a good day (my criteria for a good day is that my two SS10 classes go well... Geog12 is always cool especially today a tour of the PG Wastewater Facility... poo and machines!). What did they connect? The Queen Charlottes are isolated... linked to the mainland by a single ferry route and a few other expensive options. Whistler is isolated from Vancouver... linked by a single hwy beset by rockslide and debris torrents. BC in the mid 1800s was isolated from Canada, linked by a long boat ride and an American railway. Each is/was an outpost, an experiment in a particular set of cultural, economic, and environmental adaptations, and in need of an injection of some kind. Each was also nervous... QC because of the Queen of the North ferry sinking (which we got into, hanky-panky on the bridge and all), Whistler because of the rockslides, and BC because they were inundated with Americans during the goldrush and broke afterwards. For a four-walled affair, it was pretty good. There was even the obligatory tangent on the reconstruction of Barkerville in 1958 as it was told to me by C.P. Lyons and stories about the eccentrics that Barkerville attracts. A bit on bias, on people that get paid to say things a certain way, on wave motion in shallow water and differential friction, on fiord bathymetry, and about people who flee mainstream society in search of alternatives (aka Haida Gwaii, Whistler, Barkerville). Great day, great classes. O.K. with my career choice today!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday, October 25, 2009


"It is really raining outside" my 5-yr-old daughter Lu says as we are driving towards the art gallery for Sunday afternoon drop-in crafts (our alternative to church). It was more sleet than rain, maybe even snow, as the road was slushy and the cityscape was whitening. I wasn't sure if she was saying this because we had an argument about rain vs snow. Earlier she said that snow was slower, rain was faster. Hard to argue with that.

"IT", I thought...it is raining? I ask "who is IT?"

She pauses and responds "the clouds have decided to really rain today."

"The clouds decided? The clouds are IT?"

"Yes daddy."

I could have drawn this out.. the purpose of IT. I considered and then jettisoned the notion of having our monthly discussion on whether something exists beyond ourselves, something higher, something lower. something connecting, something animating, but we had scooched by city hall, the art gallery was in view, and we started talking about parking lots and swimming pools and who would be in the art gallery, etc. 2-yr-old Finn, of course, was just watching the sleet as Lu and I yakked on and on like the external processors we are. Sort of.

While this was happening my mind dwelt on the nature of IT, the fascination of why we construct an IT to balance the world or prop up a supposition, an OTHER to act as scapegoat, deity, friend, or foil, a THEY to posit origins, causality, and establish credentials. I wondered whether the use of IT correlated to the rise of individualism (and the reminder that I need to read Charles Taylor's book Sources of the Self), or if IT (the referring IT, maybe the cleft IT) fulfills a need to be feel connected to a community... as in IT takes a while to do this, IT's interesting that you say that. Maybe IT is a grammatical lens on the origin of consciousness (IT is the self that makes things be, but IT is also the rest of THEM that makes a self possible). I tried to analyze a stereotyped modern perspective on self... was the digitally-raised teen more reliant on the construct of IT than someone of my generation? Was the stereotype valid considering that I also believe that SELF drifts into OTHER in a virtual environment. I wandered into Daniel Dennett's ideas and the arguments about who the SELF was that constructed IT and I was also thinking about the renovations to city hall and the compacted soil, the rainwater sitting on the mud midst the elms and ashes. Also, was IT rainwater if iIT came from sleet? All these things came to conversation and to mind as we drove from Patricia and George St to 7th and Quebec... 2.5 blocks!!! Amazing I didn't crash into a tree. Is IT any wonder why I appear to many to be drifting off or distracted? This junk swirls around in my brain all day long and I can't shut IT off. Someone please help me and switch my brain for one that focuses on deadlines and gets things done.

Friday, October 02, 2009


I've had two experiences in my Socials 10 classes in the last week that have refreshed my perspective and reminded me of how important a role student inquiry plays in meaningful learning.

1) I was talking about generational differences and used my parents/their grandparents as examples. I asked a few student to volunteer evidence and soon everyone was turning to a neighbour and chatting. I was about to enter "teacher-mode" and get everyone to shut up so I could move on to my next point when I realized they were doing exactly what they should... making connections between curriculum and identity, between suggested learning and prior knowledge... they were, literally every one of them, swapping stories from their family about heritage skills, traditions, history. I stopped my "interference" and walked away for a few minutes.

2) I tried a "pioneer experience" role-play in class and the students went wild with it... they're 2 hours into it now and are still enthusiastic about making deals, banding together, selling off their children, trading a plough for 5 muskets, swapping blacksmithing for cobbling. etc. Both classes would have kept this up for days. Chaos, noise, no props at all, just imagination and conversation and pretty much everyone is "on task" with making connections between curriculum and identity. A wealth of unexpected and powerful outcomes. A real treat from a generation that is stereotyped as lacking imagination and having no attention span.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pure Vanity

My friend Rob inspired me with his lookalike post... I always get Zooey Deschanel and Katy Perry confused myself. Anyways, I found site that runs your pic through a celeb database to find a facial match... I'm o.k with Gary Oldman as he is one of my favorite actors

imogen heap

Here's the day you hoped would never come
Don't feed me violins
just run with me through rows of speeding cars.
The papercuts the cheating lovers
The coffee's never strong enough
i know you think it's more than just bad luck

Sleeping pills know sleeping dogs lie
never far enough away
Glistening in the cold sweat of guilt
I've watched you slowly winding down for years
You can't keep on like this...
now's a bad a time as any

There there baby
it's just text book stuff
it's in the ABC of growing up
Now now darling
oh don't kill yourself
cause none of us were angels
and you know I love you yeah

it's ok by me..
it's ok by me..
it's ok by me..it was a long time ago


sometimes the right set of metaphors just.................... hits the spot

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Muslim Enlightenment

I'm coming to the end of Ali's book on fundamentalism(s) and he is carefully trying to explain how, as a critic of religion and believer in Enlightenment values, he can nonetheless sound the call for a much-needed Reformation within Islam... his take on the nature of this justification struck me:

"The Enlightenment attacked religion - Christianity, mainly - for two reasons: that it was a set of ideological delusions, and that it was a system of institutional oppressions, with immense powers of persecution and intolerance. Why then should I abstain from religious criticism?" ch.22/p337

After a thoroughly eye-opening and depressing read about political corruption, slaughter, rape, theft, and mayhem in the Middle East and elsewhere, some by fundamentalists, some by imperialists, some by murderous power-mongers, I am glad to get to the bit where he looks with some hope towards the future. He bemoans the lack of Nobel Prizes in the Muslim world , the lack of political, philosophical, and religious debate that was once present in Islam and was so powerful in shaking up Europe. He speculates on the chance to skip right past the neo-liberal global agenda for commodification enabled by "modernity" and move on to something new... if only Islam could open up real debate and scholarship and separate state and mosque.

I expected to learn a great deal about the layers of Muslim society past and present... blown away by this actually. I also hoped to read a different perspective on 911. One of the unexpected outcomes, though, is the idea that someone who has stripped their faith of religion and embraced humanist ideals still has a valid perspective on religion. This is obvious to most people, I'm sure (that the reformed/deformed can and should engage the rest) but it is often these simple ideas that grab me, give me something to build on.

To be fair to Ali's thesis, he makes pains to show how religion is most often the vehicle or instrument of oppression rather than the ultimate cause, especially in the case of American fundamentalism, which lies beneath the surface throughout many if its international blood-lettings (I'll save that for another post)...

"Exploiters and manipulators have always used religion self-righteously to further their own selfish ends. It's true that this is not the whole story. There are, of course, deeply sincere people of religion in different parts of the world who genuinely fight on the side of the poor, but they are usually in conflict with organised religion themselves. The Catholic Church victimised worker or peasant priests who organised against oppression. The Iranian Ayatollahs dealt severely with Muslims who preached in favour of a social radicalism." ch.22/p.329

I am reminded of how education on climate change, peace, and women's rights, and HIV/Aids (to name a few) still have an uphill fight within evangelical denominations in Canada. In the Mennonite Brethren church I grew up in, the environmental movement throughout the 1980s and 90s was considered "New Age" (of this world, or Satan), something to be viewed with suspicion. On the question of peace, a telling example came with the first Gulf War in 1990. How would this war for oil be met by our belief in non-resistance and the stance of non-participation? After some pressure for some kind of response, a prayer meeting was held - not to ask for peace or and end to conflict, certainly not to condemn violence or examine causes - but to wish Bush, Sr. and other leaders wisdom as they made tough decisions. It marked a key moment in the church -- Anabaptist peace theology got locked in the closet. On the question of rights, the same church continues to bar women from serving as elders (trustees), in violation of it's own Conference principles (from 1985 to the present) and probably the Charter of Rights. The subject of gay rights & acceptance wouldn't even make it past the front doors (please please someone prove me wrong on any of this). I am sure this and others evangelical churches do remarkable things, and that most individual attenders might not even realize these issues exist in their midst, but if they want to rise above the history of institutional oppression, they need to collectively engage with tough issues in the world they presume to affect (start with peace and equality).

So... adieu Tariq Ali... I will never think about Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, India, Indonesia, Israel, or the United States the same way again.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

What I'm reading

Clash of Fundamentalisms by Tariq Ali (see interview on his even newer book). After he establishes his leftist credentials, he moves into a stunning and learned history of Islam from its origins to the present, particularly its abuses by murderous power-hungry despots and imperialists alike. That's as far as I've got, but it's heading towards an early (2002) analysis of 911. I'd like to follow up with Rushdie's The Satanic Verses!

Dressing the Assessment

I read an interesting op-ed piece in the PG CItizen... Student Academic Excellence Deserves Recognition, basically arguing that removing academic awards in favour of you-learned-alot awards is a bad idea; competition and achievement are valuable and relate to actual learning.

I'm 50/50 on the argument but the causal "debate" I detect is one I find very interesting and it reminded me of two questions that have been on my mind for a couple of weeks (well o.k. since 1994): What kind of people is our education system designed to turn out? What is the difference between schooling and learning? I've seen a spate of pro-d, school, district, and teaching & learning initiatives focused on the second question over the last 6 or 7 years, increasing in frequency with a recent focus on assessment-for-learning and varieties of the "PLC™" (professional learning communities). Given the chance to "jump in," I am torn, like many of my most respected colleagues, between the inherent logic of certain ideas (meaningful assessment, clear learning goals, the value of collaboration, the importance of coherent support strategies, etc.) and the willingness of educators to adopt structures and philosophies they haven't critically examined or taken the time to practice or understand. My own dedicated and caring staff seems to struggle with the basic difference between classroom (personal/relational) structures and school (institutional) structures. The idea of "moving forward" spellbinds leaders and followers alike, with the promise that a new set of packaged concepts will seamlessly bridge the personal and institutional domains. It's much like our political system... I believe in democracy but I'm not confident that most people know what it is they are voting for, or can navigate the span between self and society. I don't think my staff is any more reactionary or fickle than any other group, I just that our educational culture dumbs us down and erodes the middle ground between the two. The result is a fear of theory by folks who are otherwise skilled and learned. Anyways, I'm seriously digressing... I should get to my point.

I've been as guilty as the rest of shoving kids through the turnstile of schooling, of not equating success with learning. I think I've built a rich learning environment with many opportunities to demonstrate understanding, a place where the ecology of identity is as much the curriculum as "social studies." But too many of my students (always seems to be 1 or 2 per class but maybe it's more?)) who have scraped through with 50% or better would not be able to articulate a genuine response to 50% of my intended learning outcomes. That's O.K. in some ways -- many of the learning outcomes are and should be student-generated, some of them can not be found in the curriculum guide, and others relate to the great social functions of our education system (like training kids to follow instructions, be good workers, and stay off the streets so their parents can be good workers). So, I don't pretend that my panoply of learning outcomes (that I find interesting as a "Socials" guy) are necessary for students to be whole or educated or even employable; thus, many who do not meet expectations get a passing grade anyways. Nonetheless, I wonder if I underestimate my students I teach, maybe they will work to "pass" whatever level the bar is set at.

Hmm... I pause here to say that I've had a cynical week, emotionally and intellectually draining, so take all this with a grain of salt... I'm a lousy blogger, only writing when I want to vent. Also, I'll freely acknowledge that I've stolen many ideas here from friends like Rob and Ian and even Norm and Derk!

Solutions? Here's what I'm going to try next year in order to close this philosophic gap (success vs learning). I'm sifting through all the courses I teach, and I'm reducing the content to a short list of basic questions to be answered, although demonstrating mastery of the material will still require some serious thinking, working, and learning. I'll continue to use the formative assessments I've developed over the last 8 years, but I'll use two summative assessments (test & a project) to gauge whether a students has met expectations (2/3 of the learning outcomes) or not. Met the goal? Marks are recorded and all the rest is bonus. Did not meet the goal? No marks are recorded and the student has one more teacher-directed opportunity to demonstrate learning, followed by as many student-led attempts as he/she wants. I won't coerce learning from my students, but I also will not let them drift away for lack of opportunity. To force learning (especially as interpreted by the state or even a teacher) is arrogant, something that belongs in a taliban madrasa, not in a free society. I also want my practice to swing (wildly) towards an inquiry model, one in which students will challenge not only themselves and my classroom structures, but the group-think encountered in wider circles (school, community, beyond). Realistically, this means that 6 or 7 kids in every class are going to be confused when a minimal effort does not guarantee success, but are confronted with some new questions (for them) -- what am I learning? how can I express this? how'd that work out?

I predict that the net result will be both higher achievement, both in my "schooled" sense of success with learning outcomes and also in the self-esteem sense as students are able to answer questions (theirs and mine) with some confidence (maybe after multiple attempts). That brings it back to the Citizen article I guess; I believe the author was trying to connect these. There's more to this of course but this much at least I needed to get out... catharsis or whatever else comes of it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Election Day in BC choices

Why I want to vote Green... their platform represent the kind of society I'd like to live in: sustainable development, just and caring society, protection of resources for future generations.

Why I don't want to vote Green... under our current system it would be a vote for an ideal, but not a vote that could elect in my riding where strategy is important.

Why I want to vote Liberal... I think the carbon tax is a good start for dealing with CO2 emissions, and their promise (which is just a promise) to negotiate treaties is the right thing to do.

Why I don't want to vote Liberal... the run-of-river projects are scary, sounds like a resource sell-off, Gordo and the rest are capitalism crazy. The education minister is out to lunch and she represents my riding. The scandals don't help either.

Why I want to vote NDP... best chance to stop-and-think on the run-of-river projects, best chance to change my local representative. Balance of capitalism and socialism.

Why I don't want to vote NDP... screechy campaign, focused on bad liberals and head-in-the-sand on the carbon tax. Bad memories of Glen Clark (bring back Barrett).

Why I want to support the STV... provide better electable choices, represent a larger and more diverse voice in legislature. Cool election result to break down with a Socials class.

Why I don't want to support the STV... might mess with local representation, esp. for rural areas (although this is a problem now, too).

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

moving forward

Wow do I ever dislike this cliche... a handy and trendy catch-all that suggests "we've made a decision, we hope it's the right one, we'd better call it progress so nobody challenges our assumptions." It's like Billy Bragg's song: Just because you're better than me/ Doesn't mean I'm lazy / Just because you're going forwards / Doesn't mean I'm going backwards.

Still, when I think of moving forward I a reminded that we finally put the toilet paper back on the toilet paper holder a couple of weeks ago. We took it off 4 years ago when our daughter could crawl up to the roller and start spooling off heaps of tp. She was barely weaned from this when our son came along with just as much passion for lining the floor with shwipes. They done with that now, and although there are still diapers and plastic toys and crayons and teddies and half-done art projects everywhere all around, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. A tenth of my life has whizzed by with no toilet paper handy, always just out of reach on the counter. The little kid things, the toys and crayons and what not, some find cute or sentimental, but we find annoying. We can't wait to graduate to the time when the kids are more self-sufficient and conversational. At this point, it doesn't look like either one will be the pensive bookworm or reflective observer (dream come true), they will be quick-thinking fiery clumsy strong funny, but not quiet.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Eastwood's Gran Torino

I guess this is my movie pick of the year... which says a lot to me. First, It was good -- the redemption factor of Unforgiven and the very direct film-making style of Million Dollar Baby. I like a movie that delivers the forms of "modernity" and leaves the abstraction to the viewer... bizarre stories with no real endings or resolution leave me exasperated. I'll take postmodernism for spirituality, politics, and philosophic discourse, but I'll stick with modernism for art, film, architecture, and food. Second, when I think of what the film does to me, I am reminded of some of my other favourite films like Deliverance, The Mission, Clearcut, Apocalypse Now, and Rupert's Land -- intact stories with round characters, a generous pace, and a complex of values which emerge from the telling. I could see it coming but was still floored by Walt Kowalski laying down his life in an act of nonviolence (yet no less bravely/insanely than a Dirty Harry move). Third, I loved the references to his other film characters... especially the spitting of large wads of chaw-juice. Fourth, I liked the car, even though he never drove it... the nostalgia reminds me of my 1972 Dodge Charger which I got to drive from 1986-1991 ish. Fifth, the racial epithets were handled well... the idea of slandering and denigrating everything "Other" (saving acts of kindness which were given tender treatment) was an interesting way to convey time (i.e. time periods), history, and values. Sixth, it says a not because I don;'t really read much anymore (when will that change?) and I've seen a fest of movies in the last few months so yeah this one rose to the top.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Digital Storytellers Pro-D session

How can/do our students tell us about what they are learning? How is technology helping or hurting in the demonstration of
learning? How can we build on this?

Thanks for helping us address these questions today. Can you add anything to what we talked about today? Could leave a comment about what you got out of the session? Click on the comments link below to leave some feedback.

Monday, March 02, 2009

carts of darkness

A student reminded me about this one... I remember it was in the news a couple of years ago, some controversy over the ethics of making a film about high-speed homeless cart-riders in North Van. Anyways, here is the full movie -- http://www.nfb.ca/film/carts_of_darkness/ --shorter clips are also available on youtube.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Anthem in N.B.

You've seen the story? I caught a video story on this again last night, too. A New Brunswick elementary principal (Millet, see pic) decided (with his staff's support) to stop playing the Canadian anthem every morning in response to "inclusion" concerns from some parents. Another parent fired back, making it a patriotism/support our troops issue, her daughter likes the anthem as it reminds her cousin who died in Afghanistan. The principal suggests that the anthem can be played at regular assemblies; the daughter can even lead in O Canada. But... the principal is vilified by his community (threats of violence) and the press (making it out to be a ban on the anthem), thousands of calls and emails (including death threats), even Conservative MPs put on their pointy white Reform hats in Commons and stand up to condemn the principal for his unCanadian actions. To top it off, his N.B. school district superintendant overrules his decision (even though it was a school choice to begin with to play the anthem daily) and the education minister is considering mandating the anthem in all schools.

In my mind, having an anthem played to children every day (just like the Lord's Prayer or American pledge of allegiance, etc.) is a form of indoctrination, a propaganda technique that fits a totalitarian or nationialistic regime but not Canada. I admire quirky rituals and chance to sing in public, but once in a while is fine for flag-waving and musical salutes. I am a creature of the earth on which I was born, a citizen of humanity, a plant grown in a Canadian ecosystem. I do not have to be patriotic to love certain Canadianisms, nor is "country" always right (although it could be always wrong). My wife jokes that Maritimers are messed up with each other and cruel to the "different" and blind to change when it is needed... too bad the "attackers" on this issue fit the stereotype. I am disgusted with the people who trashed the principal (especially the neocon/nutter-mother and the ball-less superintendant) and used ignorant 19th century arguments to do so. I wish we could find him a job in our district... he seemed completely broken on the news last night.