Saturday, May 4, 2019

Real World Curriculum

Almost two years ago, in July of 2017, I crafted a "Real World" curriculum. It must have rained or been outrageously hot for a few days in a row for me to have put this all down. It was sparked by ongoing conversations with students of two types (the conversations, not the students).

Many grade 12s regularly complained that they didn't learn anything useful in all their years of schooling. They're about to move out of their homes, and they have no idea how to do anything required for basic survival. They're terrified and unprepared for the next stage in their lives. The other line of discussion is more varied, but it includes the many little things students haven't picked up over the years, like the existence of the residential school system in Canada or what makes a stupid argument verifiably unreasonable or not understanding the implications of their view that all taxes should be abolished or having no idea of the components of a basic sentence or how the legal system works in their own country. We don't let students graduate without basic literacy and numeracy skills, but I also wonder if we should delay graduation for basic knowledge and life skills.

So I started with a list of things they didn't know and skills they didn't have, and expanded it into a curriculum proposal.

Then I did nothing with it because the whole thing is ridiculous and nothing will every change. We're all about maths and sciences and technology. What else matters?

But things are changing - mainly for worse, but some for the better. A recent article about one school teaching life skills - "adulting classes" - has provoked some interesting staff discussions.

So here's my lengthy and unwieldy proposal from a couple year back. It involves one course each year replacing a few other courses, but it could easily replace that horrible mandatory online course idea!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

McKibben is Banking on Protests

Bill McKibben in The Guardian:

"Luckily, we have two relatively new inventions that could prove decisive to solving global warming before it destroys the planet. One is the solar panel, and the other is the nonviolent movement. . . . Before we can best employ these technologies, we need to address the two most insidious ideas deployed in defence of the status quo. The first is that there is no need for mass resistance because each of us should choose for ourselves the future we want. The second is that there is no possibility of resistance because the die is already cast. . . . The reason we don’t have a solution to climate change has less to do with the greed of the great, unengineered unwashed than with the greed of the almost unbelievably small percentage of people at the top of the energy heap. That is to say, the Koch brothers and the Exxon execs . . . Let’s operate on the assumption that human beings are not grossly defective. That we’re capable of acting together to do remarkable things." 

I have a commenter who thinks it unconscionable for me to provoke students to skip school to protest. Anon (of course) thinks protesting is a matter of privilege because only the wealthy can get tutors to catch up on the work they missed in that one afternoon each month. I responded that tutors aren't really necessary, and later was reminded of all the times parents take their kids out of school to go on vacation for a week or two, and all the time they miss for sports or to rehearse for the school play or to look at what happens at our local waste facilities or how a cow is milked. All those are important things, and none require paying for a tutor to catch up.

BUT none of those, seriously, are as important as slowing climate change and saving many species from mass extinction, including our own.

ETA: It's not like Trudeau is standing up to big oil, but here's this anyway:

Monday, April 22, 2019

Can We Change by 2030?

The timeline of 12 years has stuck to the point that we're continuing to say it after the first year has passed. We have until 2030, which is 11 years from now. This BBC doc says we can do it!

We've done amazing things, and we have to treat our current crisis as if it's an alien invasion. The entire world has to band together to overhaul any outdated (i.e. dinosaur-dependent) infrastructure, transportation systems, agriculture, and general production methods. We also have to just stop buying crap we don't absolutely need and stop going places for our entertainment like the entitled monkeys we are.

It's the top earners who have the biggest impact: David Wallace-Wells wrote, "If the world's richest 10 percent were limited to that [European] footprint, global emissions would fall by a third." The top 10% globally includes anyone making over $70,000 in Canadian dollars. According to this site: "A $70,000 income in Canada has enough buying power to put you in the 90th percentile globally for per-person income. Within Canada, your income falls around the 50th percentile." That means almost 20 million Canadians need to go on a GHG diet.

Absolutely we have to change policies and politicians. But, at this point, it's a both/and proposition. I don't know about you, but I have significantly more immediate and certain control over my own behaviours than over the type of government that gets into power. I can also protest the shit out of them, though!

For Earth Day, write a letter to your MP, MPP, Mayor, and city councillor begging them to make this their top priority. Here's a poem for inspiration:
To have an impact on GHGs,
ditch dryers, A/C, and food to freeze.
We have to reduce cars, planes, and meat,
then put on a sweater and turn down the heat.
Basically, anything that burps, heats, or cools
uses a ton of fossil fuels.
Reducing consumption of our unnecessities
can also remedy future generations' obscenities.
But electricity from the tides, wind, and sun
allows us to keep having lots of fun!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Life After Warming

David Wallace-Wells's book The Uninhabitable Earth starts out with a repetition of facts that won't be news to anyone paying attention, but he has a lovely way with words.

Four of the last five extinctions were from greenhouse gases, and now we're adding carbon to the atmosphere 100 times faster than at any other time, and "guilt saturates the planet's air as much as carbon, though we choose to believe we do not breathe it" (5). In the last 40 years, more than half the worlds' vertebrate animals have died and the flying insect population declined by three-quarters (26). His focus is largely on humanity, but we'll be taking most other life forms with us when we go. Our continued actions are at the level of a genocide, and the "Kyoto Protocol achieved, practically, nothing; the the twenty years since, despite all of our clime advocacy and legislation and progress on green energy, we have produced more emissions than in the twenty years before" (9). Even if we stop short of the two degree mark, we'll still have a sea-level rise "to draw a new American coastline as far west as I-95" (13). "Our current emissions trajectory takes us over 4 degrees by 2100" (27). At 5 degrees, "Parts of the globe would be literally unsurvivable for humans"(39). And "heat death is among the cruelest punishments to a human body, just as painful and disorienting as hypothermia" (48).

Friday, April 19, 2019

Like Rats Jumping a Sinking Ship

My class had a great conversation the other day about discrimination and W.E.B. DuBois's "double consciousness." I discussed the theory and solicited for comments, but there were none, as I expected. This kind of thing needs to sit a little and gel before we can really address it. So I rambled on a bit about the history of the term and its origins in Freud's writing before I asked again for comments or connections. Then the hands started and a conversation developed. We can only talk about our own experiences with racism and sexism in a room where trust has been established. That is exponentially true when we start talking about our own racist or sexist thoughts and feelings and that time we threw our own group under the bus by letting someone's joke go by without mention or by joining in to feel like part of a group that openly disparages people that look like us, but have decided that, somehow, we're different.

There is no way that conversations like this will happen online. We need face-to-face interactions so we can read the room. We need to see that nodding head across the rows in order to be brave enough to tell our stories. And teachers need to catch any subtle eye-rolling or smirking with, "Let's look at the other side of the argument too," to get it out in the open to be addressed and gently (but firmly) dismantled. And there might not be a course like this at all if the new class size formula wipes out this elective.

If we want to create a society that is divisive and full of hatred and blame for one other, Ford's new education policies are right on the money. And it's starting already:
"The discussion between private and public schools appears to be growing, with several independent schools in the region seeing an increased demand. Teachers and students alike are more seriously considering going the private education route, a debate that seems to be intensifying following recent changes to public education. . . . the founder of St. Jude’s and Scholar’s Hall, Fred Gore, says registration is up 30 per cent."
We can see what happens when people with means move their kids out of public schools by looking next door. It's a mess. Some schools have the newest developments, while others scrounge for basic supplies. The wealthy compete against one another for places at the very best private schools, while public school kids have to take four busses to get clear across town to the last remaining building that offers knowledge for free.

If we want the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer, we elected the right man for the job. Brilliant! Once Scheer gets in this fall, we may as well just go ahead and eliminate that longest running border. Manifest destiny for the win!


Sunday, April 14, 2019

Varoufakis's Economic History for Dummies

First published six years ago, Varoufakis's book, Talking to My Daughter about the Economy, addressed to his then 12-year-old daughter, is a quick read in economic theory that would benefit from some dates and locations in its lessons to cement examples in history. He was still discussing the text in a podcast last June, so he must still stand by his claims. And it rests on one very important point: "You cannot afford to roll your eyes and switch off the moment words like 'economy' or 'market' are mentioned" (10). We've lost the luxury of ignorance now. We need to all understand how the system works.

Yanis Varoufakis was the finance minister in Greece for six months in 2015, and we know what happened there. Some say he couldn't possibly have fixed the problem, particularly as an outsider of sorts. When asked if he was sorry he hadn't resolved things sooner, he responded,
"Your question, sir, is the equivalent of putting to the British people in 1940 that Winston Churchill's speech, with which he raised the sentiment of the British people against the invaders, was responsible for the suffering of the Londoners after the Blitz or during the Blitz. The shortages, the rations, and so on and so forth. There's no doubt that freedom and rationality sometimes needs to be defended by means of a great deal of suffering. But to turn to the victims and blame them for what the villains have done is the height of audacity."
Regardless Varoufakis's role, one critic of his action as Greece's finance minister, the Minister for Finance in Ireland, who expected to hate the book, was surprised to find it "a stimulating and elegant perspective on market economies . . . accessible but not simplistic. . . . I found the section on public debt somewhat poetic. Even if this dimension is not evident to other readers, the lucidity of the explanation will be." But he found the solutions to it all "baffling in its brevity."

So, let's have a look.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Climate Change is About Capitalism

Phil McDuff in The Guardian:

"Today’s children, as they become more politically aware, will be much more radical than their parents, simply because there will be no other choice for them. . . . Right now we can, with a massive investment of effort by 2030, just about keep the warming level below 1.5C. This is “bad, but manageable” territory. . . . We need to fundamentally re-evaluate our relationship to ownership, work and capital. The impact of a dramatic reconfiguration of the industrial economy require similarly large changes to the welfare state. Basic incomes, large-scale public works programmes, everything has to be on the table to ensure that the oncoming system shocks do not leave vast swathes of the global population starving and destitute. Perhaps even more fundamentally, we cannot continue to treat the welfare system as a tool for disciplining the supposedly idle underclasses. Our system must be reformed with a more humane view of worklessness, poverty and migration than we have now."

Another Piece of the Puzzle that is our Premier

Nora Loreto on Twitter yesterday:

We already know that part of the increase in anxiety and depression is due to straight up loneliness. Kids are already too isolated from one another in real life. This will only add to that isolation as they struggle, on their own, through a course they've been forced to take. 

Saturday, March 16, 2019

More Ford Cuts: Ban Cell Phones, but Mandate Online Courses

From iPolitics:
"On top of the change to class sizes, the government is also mandating that all high school students take four of their 30 credits online. This requirement will take effect in the 2020-21 school year. These e-learning classes will average 35 students per class, according to the government." 
This is huge!! I don't understand why this wasn't part of the original statement in the CBC's articles yesterday or in OSSTF's statement! Online courses have notoriously high failure rates (50% according to one study, but 90% including all the people who drop the course) except for the ones that grossly lower curricular standards by, for instance, having students read just a few pages of a book instead of an entire book in a university-level senior course!!

A New York Times article, from just over a year ago, outlined how online courses harm students:
"In high schools and colleges, there is mounting evidence that the growth of online education is hurting a critical group: the less proficient students who are precisely those most in need of skilled classroom teachers. . . . After all, taking a class without a teacher requires high levels of self-motivation, self-regulation and organization. Yet in high schools across the country, students who are struggling in traditional classrooms are increasingly steered into online courses. . . . In reality, students who complete these courses tend to do quite poorly on subsequent tests of academic knowledge. This suggests that these online recovery courses often give students an easy passing grade without teaching them very much. Consider a study conducted in the Chicago high schools. Students who had failed algebra were randomly assigned either to online or to face-to-face recovery courses. The results were clear: Students in the online algebra courses learned much less than those who worked with a teacher in a classroom. . . . Even though the courses are seemingly identical, the students who enroll online do substantially worse. The effects are lasting, with online students more likely to drop out of college altogether."
And here it is straight from the horse's mouth:

I can't see this as anything but is a giant step towards privatization of education so Desire to Learn and Google can run the system. I warned about this almost two years ago, when e-learning was getting bigger and Betsy DeVos was coming to visit. The iPolitics article continues:
"President Harvey Bischof told reporters on Friday the government is provoking a fight it can’t win. 'I’m telling you, we are absolutely not going to be in a position where we are going to give away the class size caps that we have achieved over years of negotiations,' Bischof said. 'I’m expecting a big fight,” he said. “These guys have set up the conditions for exactly what they needed to avoid which is instability and massive discord in the education system.' Bischof said the class size changes will mean a cut of more than 20 per cent of secondary school teachers in Ontario. Including those represented in other unions, he said that means the loss of more than 5,500 positions. He also pointed out that even with the lower average of 22 students per class, there are already classes in the province that have more than 30 students. He said his union’s conflict with the government will be 'severe' and 'prolonged.'"
This is going to be really messy!!

From Ontario Families for Public Education.

ETA this detail: E-Learning will be CENTRALIZED by the government instead of by each school board. Interesting that we're learning about this drip-drip-drip fashion. They are taking full control of schooling. Glad I'm on my way out and that my kids are almost all finished too, but I'll keep fighting for those who are just starting.

Dudley Paul, editor of School Magazine, writes,
"This is all about the appearance of a crisis--namely the $14.5 billion deficit, the Tories say forces them to make cuts everywhere. Inventing a crisis was the philosophy of the last Conservative government under Mike Harris, which went on to solve it by stripping basic services. . . . It's not the operating principle for Doug Ford's Tories. The difference is that they work faster and more viciously. . . . the Tories aren't fighting hard at all to get that deficit under control. This latest invented 'crisis' is about ideology: Ontario being 'open for business.' It's about cutting government services so they can be offered for a price. . . . as Ernst Young puts it: '...providing funding to individuals, who can then choose their service providers through a form of market activity and discipline. . . . he plans to cut public education to the point that it is unworkable. He'll leave it to those who can pay the price to have a decent education for their children."
Some are estimating as many as 5,000 positions in education will be lost over the next six years. Ford insists he won't be firing teachers, but even before this announcement he proposed a hiring freeze for all school boards. As teachers retire, they won't hire replacements.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Ford's Cuts to Education

As reported in a CBC article, Ford's cuts to education, so far, aren't nearly as bad as anticipated. Could it mean he actually listened to citizens? Or maybe they've been hinting at cuts so horrible that now we're all just relieved and drained of the fight to stop the cuts he did make.

Average class sizes will be bigger in high schools (from 22 to 28). If you just picture a classroom of typical students, you might thing that 28 isn't a big deal, but it doesn't work like that. Right now we typically have 28-32 in an academic class, which is averaged in with classes that might have as few as 3 students in them who are extremely high needs to get that 22 figure. So changing the average to 28 doesn't mean classes will each have 28 kids. It means some will have 3 and others will have 38. OR, worse, some will have 6 and others will have 35. He promises no job cuts as he implements this over a few years, so that means fewer new hires.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Arctic Destruction

I just want to put this document here so I can find it again: Global Linkages: A graphic look at the changing Arctic. It was compiled by the UN Environment and GRID-Arendal. It looks at populations in the Arctic, and how it's being impacted by climate change (permafrost thaw, ocean acidification...), pollution (contaminants, plastic, mercury...), and changes to biodiversity (migratory species, invasive species...). 

Seligman's Hope Circuit

Martin Seligman is famous for a learned helplessness study I wrote about a few years back:
In a famous experiment, dogs were put in a compartment and trained to jump a barrier when given an electric shock. After one or two tries, the dogs jumped the barrier immediately after being put in the compartment even when no shock was given. BUT some dogs were restrained the first time and not able to jump the barrier. They had to tolerate the shock without being able to escape. When they were unharnessed, they still didn't jump the barrier, but just stayed there, tolerating the pain.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Are Grades Harmful to Students?

A bold claim was made to me recently that giving students grades on assignments and tests actually impedes their ability to self-assess their work. It's a big deal when an educator insists that what you've done for years is actually harming the ability for your students to achieve to their potential. The winds have shifted again, and there's another movement coming, this time to restrict grading student work with anything beyond descriptive feedback. I think that number or letter grade is actually important to student success, and that initial claim requires some scrutiny.

Student Self-Assessment

One goal in teaching anything is to get the learner to a point where they can recognize whether or not they are achieving with excellence. Absolutely! In some areas, excellence is easier to see than others. If you're learning to swim, then excellence at a specific level might be measured by the ability to swim one length without touching the bottom of the pool. That's a marker that's easy for the novice to recognize just by the feel of whether or not their feet touched bottom. But other learning is more difficult to assess as clearly. If a student is learning to dance, or learning a new language, or learning to argue a philosophical position, the student can easily feel like they've master the new skill, yet be completely mistaken. This is what makes So You Think You Can Dance so entertaining (or just sad).

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

A Different Sort of Electoral Reform

What if politicians were no longer allowed to campaign by burning fossil fuels travelling all over the world?? What if there were a very strict and low limit on campaign spending. There could be one election website, and each party would have access to one page on that site where they would have to, clearly and succinctly, explain their platform under specific headings common to all the pages (and they'd be barred from making a separate website). They would have a list of candidates in each riding, and can add only one 5-minute video to their page. There could be a page with a forum for questions that's strictly moderated by an intelligent group of non-partisan do-gooder volunteers, each with a degree in philosophy (and, hence, little else to do). No fallacious reasoning will be allowed! Something similar could happen within each party, as well, as they choose their leader.

No flights, no travel expenses, no signs, no phone calls or knocks on the door. Just a straightforward comparison of the platforms with a clear explanation of the implications.

And imagine if we could actually hold politicians accountable for their promises. If they lied in their platform, then we'd oust them immediately, so their platforms would end up being very carefully worded.

Then wealth and backing wouldn't be factors in running in an election. Anybody with a strong idea and the smarts to understand all the implications of their ideas and explain them well could end up leading even if they grew up in a poor family. 

Then charm and schmoozing wouldn't have an effect on the populace. People would respond to the ideas, not the rhetoric.

While we're fantasizing here, we could also ensure that our MPs and MPPs vote based on polls in their ridings, not based on their party leader's position, you know, like in a democracy!

The only way we'll get a leader who actually stops pipelines and changes the agricultural industry and subsidizes solar, wind, and tidal power, and actually affects our future positively, is if we can stop corporate lobbying. One way we can do that is to stop campaigns from costing a small fortune.

What we're currently doing doesn't work, and it doesn't have to be like this.

Saturday, March 2, 2019


OFSTED recently published a report on what works in schools. Some of the ideas were relevant only to the U.K., but other ideas can be used here. They studied schools in a few different ways, looking at types of teaching that's most effective and what else really matters in a school.

Some obvious findings:
"teachers need solid knowledge and understanding of the subject(s) they teach. . . . where direct measures of teacher subject knowledge are used, the evidence is much more positive. . . . There is also evidence that teachers’ content knowledge affects their teaching practices. Baumert et al (2010) found that teachers with greater content knowledge have higher levels of pedagogical content knowledge, which itself leads to greater attention to cognitive activation (developing pupils’ conceptual knowledge through, for example, summarising and questioning strategies) in their teaching" (9-10). 

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Amber Alert Red Herring

People were upset to be woken up by the Amber Alert Thursday night. And now, on social media, people are REALLY upset that people were upset to be woken up by the Amber Alert.

This is trending:

But, instead, we need a #believethem movement to trend for whenever a parent or grandparent or neighbour has good reason to believe that someone is about to do something dangerous or lethal involving a child.

Friday, February 1, 2019

On Fake News and Russian Collusion

In a recent interview in AcTIVism, Glenn Greenwald, one of few people Edward Snowden agreed to speak to, shamed other countries that benefited from Snowden's revelations but refused to grant him safe passage. Because of Snowden, many are taking means to protect their personal privacy online, but his revelations had an even bigger impact on our relationship with government. Fewer people trust government anymore. At all.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Cost of Inequality: Davis 2019

This is a great video of some excellent speakers to listen to while you make dinner or, maybe, do your taxes. In a nutshell, governments need to stop taking out social programs since they cost so little of the GDP anyway, and they need to make sure the wealthy pay their taxes in full or maybe even raise their taxes, and we all need to get everyone involved to create a more loving and just world.

Rutger Bregman references William James's essay, "The Moral Equivalence of War" in a slightly different context from James in that Bregman thinks we need a war, for our survival, against climate change.

James establishes that wars continue as a necessary means to bring forth valour. But, he clarified, "War is not the only stimulus known for awakening the higher ranges of men's spiritual energy." He proposes that the youth of the day (back in 1906) be trained to be strong and vital by being sent, not to wars, but to build infrastructure and factories, to fight a war against Nature itself. His essay doesn't hold up today in the specific way he hopes to establish peace worldwide, but the idea behind it is still viable. One flaw, even at the time, is that if we train the youth in compulsory hard work, they're missing the potential benefit war brings to a few of the youth: coming back home a hero.

So, instead of proposing a war against Nature, I propose something along the lines of what Bregman is getting at, but a little more concrete: a war against tragedies. Train them in the work of enriching lives and saving people from disease and suffering by clearing areas destroyed by hurricanes and floods, by rebuilding homes and schools in safer areas complete with solar panels and rain collection systems, and by helping people transport their lives as necessary. Instead of a war against nature, it can be a war against soil erosion, deforestation, and plastic bits everywhere. Now we need to fight in defense of nature.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Kids These Days!

Here's Greta Thunberg, 16, at Davos 2019, the World Economic Forum:

At places like Davos, people like to tell success stories. But their financial success has come with an unthinkable price tag. And on climate change, we have to acknowledge we have failed. All political movements in their present form have done so, and the media has failed to create broad public awareness. But Homo sapiens have not yet failed. Yes, we are failing, but there is still time to turn everything around. We can still fix this. We still have everything in our own hands. But unless we recognise the overall failures of our current systems, we most probably don’t stand a chance. . . . Solving the climate crisis is the greatest and most complex challenge that Homo sapiens have ever faced. The main solution, however, is so simple that even a small child can understand it. We have to stop our emissions of greenhouse gases. Either we do that or we don’t. . . . 
Some say we should not engage in activism. Instead we should leave everything to our politicians and just vote for a change instead. But what do we do when there is no political will? What do we do when the politics needed are nowhere in sight? Here in Davos – just like everywhere else – everyone is talking about money. It seems money and growth are our only main concerns. . . . We must change almost everything in our current societies. The bigger your carbon footprint, the bigger your moral duty. The bigger your platform, the bigger your responsibility. Adults keep saying: “We owe it to the young people to give them hope.” But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.

Here's the whole thing:

Sunday, January 20, 2019

On the Covington Catholic School Incident

The best part of this issue, if there can be a good part, where a bunch of high school boys surrounded Nathan Phillips to get a little kick from exercising their power over another human being, is that they're being skewered on social media. Their action has precedence. It's easy to do. It's a power grab that's free to take by even the youngest set of privileged douchebags. But this time others didn't join in, and some of the people associated with them are actually embarrassed. Where once most people would be silent in the face of open racism, at the very least people are not afraid to speak up and denounce this behaviour. Everywhere. Small comfort, I know. We suck.