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.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

10 Year Challenge

I posted this challenge on social media recently. This is what we do to be sociable: play online games and forward memes. Discussing the world and screaming into the void to try to shift this tragic path is such a loser thing to do. It's a balance to stay just this side of the line where we might be heard just a little.

Wired's Kate O'Neill guessed that, like all those social media games, this one is about data mining, specifically,
"I knew the facial recognition scenario was broadly plausible and indicative of a trend that people should be aware of. . . . Imagine that you wanted to train a facial recognition algorithm on age-related characteristics and, more specifically, on age progression (e.g., how people are likely to look as they get older). Ideally, you'd want a broad and rigorous dataset with lots of people's pictures. It would help if you knew they were taken a fixed number of years apart—say, 10 years. Sure, you could mine Facebook for profile pictures and look at posting dates or EXIF data. But that whole set of profile pictures could end up generating a lot of useless noise. People don’t reliably upload pictures in chronological order . . . it would help if you had a clean, simple, helpfully labeled set of then-and-now photos. . . . As with hashtags that go viral, you can generally place more trust in the validity of data earlier on in the trend or campaign—before people begin to participate ironically or attempt to hijack the hashtag for irrelevant purposes. . . . Is it bad that someone could use your Facebook photos to train a facial recognition algorithm? Not necessarily; in a way, it’s inevitable. . . . [It] could help with finding missing kids . . . [but] could someday factor into insurance assessment and health care."
But that's not even the thing I'm interested in. That all goes without saying now. I'm interested in how people hijacked the trend (see this too):

Polar ice formation - from Nasa

We Still Have Agency Around Climate Change

There's one seed left.

The Agenda talked with Michael Mann and a few others in the field about "Burnout and Despair: Studying the Climate"

Mann focused on the many ways we can reduce our carbon footprint, and said,
"Every bit of fossil fuels that we don't burn . . makes the future better. It's not a cliff we fall off of, it's a minefield we're walking through. . . . Any amount we can stop will help."
When asked if it's better to discuss the issue with brutal honesty or restrained and inauthentic optimism Mann said the issue is "not binary, not a matter of f'd or not f'd. It's a matter of how f'd. . . . The more carbon we burn, the worse it gets. We can become active participants in this."

And then they all laughed about how horrible it is to have an environmentalist at a dinner party, but some fear of the path we're on is necessary to motivate action. And then imagining what it could all look like if we get on board today can be empowering.

Also, check out Vice. There's one brief scene with focus group results affecting the Republican decision to change from calling it global warming, which is scary, to climate change, which doesn't bother people nearly as much! And here I thought it was because it's more accurate!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Why Protest?

This will be the shortest post ever! Here's my argument delineated in premises and a conclusion (P=premise, SC=sub-conclusion, C=conclusion):

P1. Human beings are wired for immediate, or short-term, survival, not long term survival. (Or, as Plato said, we are weak at the skill of measurement.) That's why we do many stupid (aka short-sighted) things.
P2 (SC1) - So, we need restrictions on our behaviour if we hope to survive (e.g. DUI laws. There's an unstated premise here that the government has the power to restrict our behaviour).
P3. The government is made up of people who are also human, so they are also wired only for immediate survival.
P4 (SC2) - So, they also need to be forced to behave in ways that work better longterm.
P5. Part of surviving in government, short term, is being re-elected by the people.
P6 (SC3) - So, politicians can be influenced by their perception of what the people want. (little side argument: They're also affected by cash-rich lobbyists, but they don't get any of that lobby money if they don't have a seat in office. They only have a seat if they follow the will of the people.)
P7. Non-violent protests with enough people affect the politicians in a real democratic country ('enough' being the tipping point that suggests to politicians that the tides have changed and they have to alter their message if they hope to be re-elected).
P8. (SC4) - So, if enough people protest against climate change, politicians will alter legislation to restrict our actions, to affect corporate practices, and to alter the governmental direction of spending in favour of longer-term survival.
P9. Boots-on-the-ground protesting is more effective than clicktivism as it adds the dimension of clarifying to politicians that the protesters are politically engaged and willing to act, thus more likely to vote. (And rallies have worked in the past.)
P10. When protesting doesn't have an effect, it's because it wasn't sustained and determined enough. (Okay, this one is circular, and there are places where protesters were ignored for years, like the protests against Coke drying up aquifers in India, so this also rides on the unstated premise that, in Canada, democracy works).
P11 Doing something in the face of our grim reality feels better and helps us cope in the face of trauma more than doing nothing.

C. We have to rally outside the offices of parliament if we have any hope of turning this corner!

Am I wrong? If so, which premise is in question? If not, then join the fight! This is our last chance. Thinking that we have until 2030 to change things allows for a bit more denial that slows us down from changing things NOW. Every day counts in those mere 4,000 days until we run out of options. (Yes, 2030 is just a little over 4,000 sleeps!)

Saturday, January 12, 2019

On Continuums: ASD, OCD, ADHD, Alzheimers, and Allergies

Since the Aspergers designation was excluded from the DSM V, many people were, and are, outraged that all cases fall under the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) instead of the separate categories of Autism and Aspergers. There is a world of difference between someone who has some mild problems understanding social cues and a strong interest in birding but is highly functioning, and someone who is unable to use spoken language and exhibits almost continuous self-stimulating behaviours.

Then there was a storm of controversy over Stephen Fry's comments about having "OCD eyes" that found it uncomfortable to have a anything appear out of order. For some people, having OCD means feeling discomfort when things are out of place and having an unstoppable need to put them right before the anxiety around it becomes too painful to ignore. In an article in the Guardian, David Adam suggests that OCD is far worse than a dislike of things out of order, as if people who have a mild case don't really have it at all. It's definitely the case that some people have horrid obsessions that affect their ability to function in the world. But it's also true that people can have intrusive thoughts that provoke repetitive actions in a way that don't noticeably affect their function. They're not desires they have, but random thoughts that people can't prevent coming to them. I understand not wanting to abuse the term until it's meaningless, like having an occasional day of high energy isn't the same as having ADHD, but there is no cut and dry line. It's very difficult to determine to what extent thoughts and routines have to disrupt a life in order for it to be considered a true case of OCD.

On Evaluating Teachers and Edu-Speak

I just went through the final teacher evaluation of my career, since we are evaluated every five years, and I don't expect to do this for more than another four. I hope I pass!!

I've said before that the process has room for improvement. I think teachers within the department or a similar department should be in each other's classrooms from time to time, unannounced, and then offer online, anonymous comments, positives and negatives, on teaching techniques that the teacher receives all mixed together at the end of each semester. We could learn a lot about teaching from seeing each other teach, and we'll likely up our game if we know colleagues might be wandering in. The way I see it, we've been evaluated already, when we got our B.Ed. and then passed the interview process. (That B.Ed. education also has much to be desired, and it could be so much more rigorous as a master's degree.) But teachers do need to be kept on our toes with some type of review process, and we absolutely need a means to flag teachers that might be struggling, at which point the department head can get involved in the process. Admin should be a last resort.

On Fridays for Future

I went to the first #fridaysforfuture protest in our area with my youngest, yesterday, outside my MP's office. The idea is the brainchild of Greta Thunberg who wants all students to strike every Friday until the political system focuses on slowing down climate change so we can avoid hitting that dreaded 1.5 degree ceiling. We've already zipped passed the 350 ppm ceiling with nary an outcry (at about 410 ppm now). We only have 11 more years, until 2030, to act before we won't be able to have any significant effect. She says, "What is the point of learning facts when the most important facts given by our finest scientists are ignored by politicians?". Before I left work, I talked to a few colleagues, discussing the ethics of a teacher taking a half day "family care" day to go to a protest, and everyone I spoke with was supportive of the idea. What's a family care day for if not to fight to sustain the planet for our families! And I decided, even if it's seen as wrong, it's worth the potential consequences. It was a well-run event with about 40 people there on a bitterly cold day (the paper said 30, but I counted at least 40); unfortunately, I think a good 60 or 70% of the crowd were long past their school days.