Friday, October 16, 2020

Imagine If Teachers Made the Decisions that Impact Teachers

So now the government has overruled regulation 274. I wrote about it ages ago, again firmly planted on the government side!! I'm really very, very pro-union, honestly, but some things just don't make sense to me. At the time, I was watching several LTO teachers in my building who knew the kids well, had developed strong relationships with students and staff, and had shown their excellence in spades, and they were passed over in favour of an unknown that happened to be in that top five in seniority. The LTOs passed over weren't brand new, as is often characterized, but had been supplying for years. It's not always that case that the longest serving are the most qualified or the best choice. And I haven't seen the regulation do anything to dampen nepotism. However, some people have seen the complete opposite effect. BUT that's not my focus here.

Some people think this entire issue is a distraction and are wary that the unions will go to town on it instead of focusing where we need them, on reducing class sizes by fighting to add more teachers or by allowing teachers to work from home. To what extent is all the reg. 274 talk a red herring to get us sidetracked? Lecce suggested that it will make hiring easier, but who's getting hired? Classes are being collapsed in this mess!

And then someone suggested to me that the entire reason we all have to teach online from inside the building isn't because of the board at all, but because of the union: it creates more supply teaching jobs. If teachers are allowed to teach from home, then they'll call in sick far less often, and there will be fewer opportunities for other teachers. I have NO idea if this is fact or fiction. It's pure conjecture at this point. But it does make sense that the union might support that (and therefore not fight it). And, while I completely understand that need for more job opportunities for OTs, having them show up to watch students log in while the teacher teaches from home, using up all their sick days, isn't necessarily giving them the best usable experience. A far better solution would be to split elementary school classes in half and have them "supply" using the teacher's lessons with the other half of the class and let the online teachers teach from home. But that's crazy talk, I know.  

However, my real focus is this: Wouldn't it be absolutely AMAZING if teachers had a say in all these decisions??

Maybe we could!

For the sake of my mental health, instead of marking this afternoon, I watched a talk from the Hannah Arendt Center: Revitalizing Democracy: Sortition, Citizen Power, and Spaces of Freedom. It was well worth it! I think it will show up here eventually (with suggested readings here). 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Does Teaching Effectively Under this System Legitimize Ford's Plan?

What Doug Ford's team is doing right now reminds me of Bojack Horseman, from the end of the first season on, when absolutely everybody just starts saying "Hollywoo" after the 'D' in the big sign goes missing. It becomes the accepted reality. So many are openly just accepting that kids and staff in schools will get sick, but it's not enough of them that we should actually act on the concern. According to their press conference on Friday, kids don't transmit the virus, and they only bring it in to the schools from elsewhere - they don't get it from the school. That was said shortly after the BBC's "Science in Action" reported on a study that concluded, "children more than any other group are transmitting the virus both to other children and adults" and another that pointed to rapid testing as a means to dramatically reduce transmission rates. But we'll just keep acting like it's not happening. 

Williams & Lecce from an early September bit of propaganda h/t @parentaction4ed


For obvious reason, I'm hyper-focused on schools and the ridiculously ineffective plans being implemented. But, funny story, after a couple of boards suddenly shifted to a hybrid model of teaching (teaching both in class and at home at once) due to the number of parents pulling their kids from physical classes, I ended up on the other side of the argument. My attempts to commiserate and then offer support to affected teachers on Twitter failed dramatically, and I have incurred the wrath of several for, essentially, sleeping with the enemy.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Putting Your Own Mask on First

Teachers are a hardy bunch. We have self-trained ourselves to remain polite and calm in the face of abuse. On my first day of teaching, ever, I wrote Miss Snyder on the board, and a faceless voice from the back of the room said, "Oh good, she's not married. No sloppy seconds." I immediately erased the Miss and shifted to Ms, and went on with the lesson, refusing to give the comment further attention. At 9 months pregnant, I cleared a room of kids after a fight broke out in a pottery classroom and got the two boys in line. Just one boy, really, as the other was bleeding on the floor. Both had a good foot of height on me, but I had the grizzly bear attitude of a mom to be. And I was pretty sure they wouldn't dare hit me.  

But this is ridiculous.

Admin keeps reminding us to take time for self-care and sending us links to mental health professional sites. They want teachers taking care of themselves so we can better care for our students. And I think these messages are all coming more and more because they must know we're all starting to lose it. In person and online, teachers are talking openly about randomly bursting into tears at the smallest thing because WE'RE ABOUT TO BREAK! But we keep forging ahead, making it work, because it's in our DNA to do that with a smile and a gentle voice, compassionate to everyone but ourselves. At no other time have so many teachers felt like they're not measuring up to expectations, felt like they're failing at their job. As much as we're trying to do the best for the kids, the kids are going to notice the stress and exhaustion taking its toll. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

The Fogginess of These Times

I had laser surgery over a decade ago and love not wearing glasses, but I've started wearing my sunglasses regularly, even on my walk to work just as the sun's coming up. It makes no sense to have a barrier to our nose and mouth but leave the most defenceless intake for viruses completely uncovered. Those of us seeing things unaided need tinted lenses to manage these times.

But, despite trying all the tricks touted online, they fog up. So I meander my way towards my workplace with a fraction of my usual vision. I've just been accepting the fog as I gingerly pass the hospital on the way, sometimes holding my breath like we did as kids when we drove past cemeteries, unbuckled in the back of the station wagon, in a curious ritual that would somehow keep us from joining them. The car headlights passing me in the early mornings all have sparkling rainbows around them, and I love the irony in the possibility that I'll trip off the curb and be hit while trying to keep myself safe from a virus. But so far I've made it all the way, Mr. Magoo style.

We're at two official cases in our school, but we're not allowed to know who they are. The infected tell Public Health who they may have been in contact with, and those people are called to either get a test (which is all but impossible right now) or to sit at home for 14 days. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Oh--What's a Teacher to Do?

Starting next Friday, secondary students in my board will be forced to be in a room with about 15 other students they might not know, many of whom will take off their masks for a 45 minute mid-morning snack deemed necessary to get them through to lunchtime dismissal. They're not exactly forced, since they can choose, instead, to be exclusively distance learning, but that comes with a risk of losing their electives and possibly a more difficult time with complex instructions. So that's not much of a choice. And once they choose to be with a teacher in a classroom, then they're not permitted to leave that room while others unmask. 

It's like telling kids they can either get a ride to Toronto for a concert or watch it on TV, but if they take that ride, then they have to take off their seatbelts while they're on the 401. The car's not going to pull over to let you out if you change your mind! So, what's it going to be? Sure, it's a choice, but many kids will make the riskier choice, such as kids are. And, sure, they might all be totally fine. But they might not be. And then it will be our fault. It's ultimately Ford's and Public Health for approving this plan, but the board has to take some responsibility too since neighbouring boards don't have a secondary nutrition break. And teachers, on the front lines, also bare responsibility. 

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Risk Assessment for September

I have two weeks left before going back to school in person. I've been writing on social media and sending emails and signing petitions because this plan in Ontario doesn't feel remotely safe. I've even jumped queue and wrote to the upper echelon of my school board in an attempt to be heard. This is strictly against the rules of the bureaucratic system, but lives are on the line.  

I was all prepared to go back, but then I saw the secondary school schedule. 

Monday, July 27, 2020

On a Radical Vision of Future Earth

I grabbed this book, by meteorologist Eric Holthaus, as soon as it went on sale, excited to check out the new vision of how we can all better live together. There's lots of information for the uninitiated, and then it becomes sort of a fictional narrative. There are no characters or plot to speak of, instead it's a description of what needs to happen but written entirely in the past tense, as if it already happened. He seems to think this is how we'll better imagine what it all looks like when we solve this crisis. And it all really doesn't work (as a book and as a concept to save us), which I find a bit heartbreaking to tell you the truth. But good job trying something original, I guess.

It's being billed by the publisher as "the first hopeful book about climate change," which ignores so many many hopeful books out there: most recently Michael Mann's Madhouse Effect and George Monbiot's Out of the Wreckageand, going way back, Chris Turner's The Geography of Hope, which was a fantastic read about people actually getting shit done. I checked the publisher's page because the book has a self-published feel to it from the get go: cliché phrases and incorrect comma use, and a weird organization - part 1 is about a third of the book without any chapters, and part 2 has just three chapters, all followed by a very lengthy epilogue. But, nope. It's Harper-Collins. Curious.

Hedges - the Last Word on Cancel Culture

Having a mass of people able to "cancel" someone in power can seem like a fantastic form of fluid democracy when it shuts down something harmful in a harmless manner, like people reserving space at a Trump rally they have no intention of attending. But it can be dangerous that a mass of people can shut down something merely controversial, like a YouTuber losing their followers after associating with someone with problematic opinions. But most often, it's completely ineffective "boutique activism" because it targets the wrong people.

Chris Hedges, writing for Scheerpost now, explains that cancel culture "is not a threat to the ruling class." In fact, the ruling class is using it to their own advantage. That's their superpower:

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Some Paintings

I got on a painting kick this week. I haven't picked up a brush in years, but, seeing as I have nowhere else to go, I gave it a whirl.

It started with my obsession over a photograph of Charf Lloyd taken by Kirk Tsonos. This is my rendering of it all:

Thursday, July 16, 2020

On Learning History

I made a little history quiz, just for fun, for people to see how much they know about Canada's history of horrific treatment of Indigenous Peoples as well as our history of slavery and internment camps. I mixed in facts about America at many points just to give people context. Because of our media, we know American history so much better than our own. I had the preamble of the American Constitution memorized in about grade 2 because of those fun Schoolhouse Rocks people. I added even more exciting details in the answers to my quiz, but my kids say it's too boring to finish all twenty questions. It's just way too many words!

History has to be a fun little jingles or famous people have to reenact a drunk guy explaining a story. But that's so much more work that just listing events and explaining an event that people have to read. It feels like reading is just for the elderly who don't understand TikToks. GenZ is all about the future and only old people care about the past, which is why usually one or two students each year come up with some sweeping solutions to global problems like getting rid of money will somehow create world peace. The past shows us all the problems we might have with that idea, but it's more fun to just jump into the idea blind to all that older generation negativity.

Monday, July 13, 2020

On McQuaig's Sport and Prey

Linda McQuaig's newest book, The Sport and Prey of Capitalists: How the Rich are Stealing Canada's Public Wealth, is a fast read full of local history and written as history should be written, as colourful stories about fascinating people! But, in order to try to remember any of it, I've whittled it down to the bare bones here. She comes down hard on Trudeau, both of them, and for good reason, but takes a generally non-partisan role in exploring the good and bad players in our history.

Her concern throughout: "We've failed to appreciate our heritage as a nation that has embraced public enterprise to great effect" (6). Then she traces our gradual acceptance, at a huge cost to our country, of the neoliberal policies of deregulation, privatization, and union busting through the history of specific industries affecting Canada today: the banking system, tar sands, railways, 407, hydro, and medicines.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

On Laws and Common Sense

I'm thankful that my city council decided to make masks mandatory starting July 13th, even though I know a few, like the Regional Chair herself, were hoping that people could be persuaded to do the right thing without the law getting involved. Three weeks ago, our region launched a #FaceMaskFriday initiative to normalize wearing a mask at all, and I've been very concerned that we're so late to the party, and moving so slowly on this, despite, at one point, having a similar spread rate to Toronto.

And then I just now had this exchange in a small local store, which was letting only two people in at a time, which is great, but then opening the door for customers individually and projecting, enthusiastically, "Welcome to our store!!" unmasked and less than 2' away in the tiny entrance to the store. I was glad that I had on a mask and sunglasses, at least.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Another Rant About Overpopulation Arguments

I don't actually care that much about overpopulation, not nearly as much as I care about re-regulating industry with climate a top priority and changing economic policy to decrease inequities, but there's such a frustrating argument I've seen a few times on social media and ranted about it before, but now I've seen a YouTuber with a philosophy background, Oliver Thorn, make the same argument, so I'm compelled to have yet another look at it, just to make sure I'm not missing something. It's this:

"Overpopulation is a myth." And the supporting points? "It's just a fact." The unspoken premise in the video at the link above, which is most frustrating, is this: The suggestion that overpopulation is a problem can lead to a horrifying solution; therefore, there is no problem.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Found Letters from 1944: Frank and Ray and Johny

My daughter just found an old tin in the back of a cupboard. I have no idea where I got it, but it has two photos and two letters:

Frank and Ray? or Johny?

Both letters are addressed to Mr. F.  Krizoski / Kresky / Krizusiki, Kitchener, Ontario, with a King George VI, 4 cent stamp:

Saturday, July 4, 2020

An Eye for an Eye in Cancel Culture

Some finish that with "... leaves the whole world blind," but that somewhat belies the meaning of the phrase. The idea is that we should never take a drop more than equitable retribution.

It's was written in the Code of Hammurabi almost 4,000 years ago: "If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out" (196), and popularized in Exodus and Leviticus, about a thousands years later: In one part, after explaining how to act on the Sabbath, there's a little story where God tells Moses about a mixed race guy (half Egyptian and half Israelite) who, while arguing with a pure Israelite, cursed God in the middle of a heated argument. They asked God what to do about it, and He told them, "Any Israelite or any foreigner living in Israel who curses the Lord shall be stoned to death by the whole community" (24:16). Yikes! Elsewhere, God admits that he's jealous and vengeful, and he clearly doesn't deal with insults well. Then he goes on to announce this famous bit:
“If any of you injure another person, whatever you have done shall be done to you. If you break a bone, one of your bones shall be broken; if you put out an eye, one of your eyes shall be put out; if you knock out a tooth, one of your teeth shall be knocked out. Whatever injury you cause another person shall be done to you in return. Whoever kills an animal shall replace it, but whoever kills a human being shall be put to death (24:19-21)
So, after clarifying that you should definitely call out harm against you, and only do to others what they do to you in kind, but no more than what they do to you, the crowd takes the guy outside, who had just said some swears, and stone him to death. Now, at the time, "cursing" isn't just saying "F.U." It was seen as actually putting a curse on someone, as if our words are the precursor of an action to follow. So if you say "F.U." to someone, then they will end up F'd, and it will be because of the harm your words provoked.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Eriel Tchekwie Deranger and El Jones on #CancelCanadaDay

Migrants Rights Network hosted an online teach-in for "so called Canada Day" with two revolutionaries: Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, a Dënesųłiné (ts'ékui) member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, and Executive Director of Indigenous Climate Action, from Treaty 8 land, and El Jones, a spoken word poet, educator, journalist, co-founder of the Black Power Hour radio show, living in African Nova Scotia.

The idea of #CancelCanadaDay is forming roots now in a way I haven't seen before. I feel like many of us are beginning to turn a corner on what it means to live on stolen land. This video might help with that turn. (And it was really well moderated, with excellent sound, which is starting to matter a lot more to me in these days of online everything!) This is a general summary of the main points of discussion, an abridged transcript of their words:

Remember Climate Change?

We have a strong survival instinct that has us focus on immediate dangers at the expense of potential long term dangers. So we've been immersed in trying to solve Covid19 issues and BLM issues to stop people from dying right in front of us, and I've been rambling on about masks and policing. But, looming in the background still on the same disastrous trajectory, climate change needs our immediate attention.

Australian climate scientist, Will Steffen, says that it could take 30 years to get to net zero emissions, and we'll trigger feedback loops well before then. Nine of the 15 global trigger elements have already been activated. In this thorough Voice of Action article, Steffen explains,
“Given the momentum in both the Earth and human systems, and the growing difference between the ‘reaction time’ needed to steer humanity towards a more sustainable future, and the ‘intervention time’ left to avert a range of catastrophes in both the physical climate system (e.g., melting of Arctic sea ice) and the biosphere (e.g., loss of the Great Barrier Reef), we are already deep into the trajectory towards collapse. That is, the intervention time we have left has, in many cases, shrunk to levels that are shorter than the time it would take to transition to a more sustainable system."
There is "now scientific support for declaring a state of planetary emergency."

Monday, June 29, 2020

In Retrospect: School in the Time of Covid

This video about online learning, "numb" by Liv McNeil, is making the rounds:

This has been a difficult time, and the video is cathartic for some.

But first a bit about the video structure as a short film:

Some things were fantastic, like the sound of kids laughing as she's looking at pictures of her friends and the close-up of her emails and assignments. She used the camera to tell the story beautifully! We don't need any dialogue to feel the conflict. She's isolated from her friends and overwhelmed with work. Many viewer say it made them cry which shows that the video hit all the right points to get us to really empathize with the character. And, as time was passing on the bed, particularly the writing and screaming scenes, there was some amazing editing and stop-action acting. That takes dedicated persistence to match up those frames! Well done!

But... Next steps:
She sets up the problem beautifully, but then she just got stuck there. How does it end? The character needs to act on the problem and try to resolve it (even if she fails) rather than just succumb to it. Because the character resigns themselves to this, passively, instead of rising to the challenge, there's no arc or character development as they learn to overcome obstacles.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

On Policing: On Finding the Line

A mask, six feet, and being outdoors: pick any two at a time, amirite? Plus wash your hands before and after eating or touching your face. Pretty easy.

So, ironically, sort of, as I wrote about the importance avoiding policing one another in our daily lives, I got called out for commenting on people who don't wear masks. I've been posting about masks and social distancing pretty much daily, trying to persuade people to change this one simple part of their day in order for everyone to be able to manage to live easier and safer. But after the call out, I paused a bit to consider my own judgmental attitude towards people avoiding masks, especially any close talkers inside a building, compared to being judgmental of other actions, like writing "Black Lives Matter" in chalk in front of your own house, or commenting on an unleashed dog, or selling bottled water on the sidewalk. God forbid I'm a Karen!!

I hate the direction call out culture has gone. It's useful when it calls out harmful words and actions that could be perpetuated - hate crimes material in particular - in order to change behaviours. But I think maybe we should stop digging up things people did decades ago. Full disclosure, I dressed up as someone from another race at least three times for Hallowe'en as a child. At the time, I was completely oblivious to the harm in perpetuating a stereotype about an identifiable groups of people, and so were my parents and others in my very white neighbourhood. I've significantly changed my views since then, and there's not much I can do about the me from the '70s.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

On Policing: Time for Change

In 1982, Milton Friedman advised,
"Keep options open until circumstances make change necessary. There is enormous inertia--a tyranny of the status quo--in private and especially governmental arrangements. Only a crisis--actual or perceived--produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable" (xiii-xiv).
And then he helped usher in the neoliberal free market policies that have decimate health care, destroyed unions, privatized public services, deregulated banks and businesses, and provoked inequality like we haven't seen since 1929.

I know, master's tools and all, but I do think this part of his analysis is accurate. There IS a tyranny of the status quo! And when people are in a state of upheaval, they'll grab on to whatever message helps to stabilize them. This crisis is an opportunity for change, and we have to be awake to what that entails. We can be railroaded, or we can be ready.

The tech giants are already on it. We had been opposed to a few people-replacing technologies before the pandemic, but, as Naomi Klein explains, now we're embracing them:
"The future that is being rushed into being as the bodies still pile up treats our past weeks of physical isolation not as a painful necessity to save lives, but as a living laboratory for a permanent--and highly profitable--no-touch future. . . . There has been a distinct warming up to human-less, contactless technology. . . .  It's a future that claims to be run on 'artificial intelligence' but is actually held together by tens of millions of anonymous workers tucked away in warehouses, data centers, content moderation mills, electronic sweatshops, lithium mines, industrial farms, meat-processing plants, and prisons, where they are left unprotected from disease and hyperexploitation. . . . We had concerns about the democracy-threatening wealth and power accumulated by a handful of tech companies that are masters of abdication. . . . Today, a great many of those well-founded concerns are being swept away by a tidal wave of panic. . . . We face real and hard choices between investing in humans and investing in technology. Because the brutal truth is that, as it stands, we are very unlikely to do both." 
This is going to obliterate privacy, wipe out good jobs and mass produce bad ones. Education, just for one example, could face a dystopia that accelerates remote learning under the guise of providing the best teachers, maybe just one government approved set of teachers for all to watch remotely, and set up marking mills for faceless people with advanced degrees to grade assignment all day without ever meeting their "clients." Of course that will never happen, right? But being isolated in our homes also removes opportunities for solidarity.

Good thing we're taking to the streets.