Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Opening Schools in September

The province is asking for our advice - the public's - in how to open schools in September. As much as I value democracy, getting advice on a public health issue from random people with the time and energy to respond makes me very nervous. Consulting the public might be a means to do something not advised by expert - like business as usual. Banking on the extra stress parents are feeling trying to help their kids through school, they might get just over 50% "advising" re-opening of schools, and then the government can throw it back at us when the death rate starts rising - of our children!!

But, since they asked...

We shouldn't be opening the schools at all until we've got the number of cases WAY down - until it's actually safe to be out in public in groups. We need to follow New Zealand's lead on this, not Sweden's, and definitely not the United States. Right now, we're still not testing as much as Ford promised, and we're not tracking. Canada's still in the "needs action" section of this set of charts, and the bulk of the cases here are in Ontario and Quebec. We should be waiting at least until our daily death rate (which is significantly more accurate than the daily case rate when testing isn't carefully randomized) is in the single digits for three straight weeks or hits some other marker that's been established by experts in the field!!

Absolutely it's frustrating to teach and learn without being in the same room. I hate it!! But I can manage. And we can all get a little better at it a second time around. Students will definitely be at a disadvantage, educationally, but we can re-teach them any weakly acquired knowledge; we can't bring them back from the dead. Even if they get behind a couple years' worth of education, they can still catch up. Even though the virus often isn't fatal for children, having it can lead to lifelong health conditions.

BUT, if opening schools is going to happen before it's completely safe, then here's what I'd like to see happen in the secondary schools:

1. Here's an easy one: bring back grade 13, or at least remove that ridiculous cap on the number of credits allowed. If we want an educated populace, then let's let them learn.
2. Block classes instead of using a rotation system. Instead of four classes a day for 20 weeks, either have us teach one class at a time for 5 weeks, OR have one class each day (Monday is first period, Tuesday is second, etc.). It will eliminate travelling in the hallways and help to ban locker use so students can be expected to go straight from the door to their one class each day.
3. Alternate weeks in case of contraction and to reduce numbers. Have half the students come for one week at a time and then stay home for a week (5 on, 9 off), so there's about 15 in a class instead of 30. There's still no way we'll get 15 kids six feet apart - not in my classroom.
4. Make school just 3 hours a day instead of 5, so we can eliminate lunch and prevent kids from eating at school. I love our lunch program, and students should be able to grab food at school, but then they have to leave to be able to take off their masks in order to eat it. Students will get their lessons at school, then be expected to spend 2-3 hours each day working from home. Students on their "home week" will be expected to spend 5-6 hours each day working from home. The one limitation I found difficult to manage after that three week break was the 3 hours/week/class instead of 6.25. I'd rather managing on a case by case basis, allowing some kids to do the full curriculum and others to do what they can.
5. Institute a full-on mask protocol for every person in the building, no exceptions. We got used to wearing seatbelts, and we can get used to this too. It would be handy if teachers were given face shields so students could better hear us, though.
6. Triple the number of custodians in each school. They were already struggling with too few, and now we need the place sanitized each night.
7. We need hand washing stations outside the building to be used before entering - especially for portables. Washing with soap and running water is significantly more effective than using hand sanitizer. And block the doors open at the beginning and end of the day, so there aren't 1300 people in a row unavoidably touching that door handle! Maybe school will start to feel like one of the music festivals we're all missing this summer!!
8. Personal towels or have paper towels instead of blow driers in the bathroom!!  Blow driers spray the room with any germs left on the hands. I might just bring my own towel each day!

If we do just #2 and #3 together, then we'll reduce the number of students in each class from 120 to 15. That could stop a ton of spreading!

Send your own email, attached as a PDF or Word document, to EDU.consultation@ontario.ca including your name and any affiliated organization, with "Ontario's Plan to Reopen Schools" in the subject line. Maybe if enough of us tell them to ask the experts instead of the public, they'll actually listen!

ETA: Lecce announced, on June 19, that school boards will have to choose between three options:
1. Students return to the classroom
2. Students will learn remotely
3. Students will do a mix on an alternating schedule
But he expects a cautious start with no more than 15 students at a time in any room, and any parent concerned about the virus, can opt to keep their kids home even if the board says we're returning to class full time. SO, teachers will likely be doing a bit of a mix of things, if we are back in September. Fun!!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

On Gun Control

I've been observing many gun control arguments online and in the classroom (also online) recently. I've written about this before, once after Sandy Hook and then after a Stoneman Douglas shooting surviver put the onus on school staff to keep kids safe. This one's closer to home, so I finally got around to sorting out my views on a whole assortment of gun-supporters' typical claims (presented largely in my own words and entirely without indications of where they're from in case people don't want their views known here). I'll follow my own classroom rules for arguing: take the most charitable read of a person's point, indicate points of agreement, and only then indicate points of disagreement. It got ridiculously long, so here's the general trajectory of my position with links to each section, and there are bolded bits throughout for faster skimming:

     A Very Brief History of Gun Control in Canada
     It's Undemocratic!
     The Regulations are Nonsense
     Semi-Automatics Aren't Necessary
     Semi-Automatic Weapons are Unnecessary and Upsetting
     Semi-Automatics Can Get in the Wrong Hands
     The Buyback is One More Way to Decrease Gun Deaths
     Violence is a Bad Thing
     Random Assertions and Refutations

But first, full disclosure: I admit that I don't know all the ins and out of the types of guns being discussed, but I hope dear readers can keep to the larger issues being debated here. My one dig at gun supporters is that some, definitely not all, but it often seems that it's a significant number of them, love to dive into the minutiae of models and parts and origins until my eyes glaze over. And when that happens (but of course it doesn't always happen), when that happens, it always reminds me of Roger Ebert's dismissal of certain (but not all) Star Wars fans:
"A lot of fans are basically fans of fandom itself. It's all about them. They have mastered the "Star Wars" or "Star Trek" universes or whatever, but their objects of veneration are useful mainly as a backdrop to their own devotion. . . . Extreme fandom may serve as a security blanket for the socially inept, who use its extreme structure as a substitute for social skills. . . . If you know absolutely all the trivia about your cubbyhole of pop culture, it saves you from having to know anything about anything else. That's why it's excruciatingly boring to talk to such people: They're always asking you questions they know the answer to."

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Reich's The System

Robert Reich, an economist and professor of economics at Princeton who served under Ford, Carter, and Clinton administrations, had a great discussion with Michael Sandel, political philosophy professor at Harvard, about Reich's new book: The System: Who Rigged It and How to Fix ItI can only find the 60 minute video on facebook, but here's my summary of the ideas below. It also all fits together perfectly with Robert Fisk's new film, This is Not a Movie, which documents the history of journalists backing away from the truth in order to make a much easier living selling government-supported falsehoods.

This was all outlined and clarified by Klein's Shock Doctrine, ten years ago, but it's important it's revisited again and again. Here's what they said:

The important distinction in politics now is NOT between right and left, but between democracy and oligarchy (power held by a few - specifically those with money). Three developments have contributed to the shift to an oligarchy: the move from stakeholders to shareholders, the decline of labour unions, and the deregulation and expansion of finance.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Teaching Online - a Month in Review

A recent poll of Canadian students aged 10-17 found that,
"When it comes to online classes, most say they’re keeping up (75%) but are largely unmotivated (60%) and disliking the arrangement (57%). It stands to reason then, that one of the biggest worries for Canada’s young people includes missing out on school. Three-in-ten (29%) children identify this as their most major concern, a number that rises among teenagers 16 and 17 years of age."
I think you'd get similar answers if you quizzed teachers, too, keeping up but largely unmotivated and definitely disliking the arrangement! Prepping for online courses makes me think of that old movie with Martha Plimpton, 200 Cigarettesabout a 20-something hosting a New Years Eve party and getting drunker and drunker as she waits, alone, for people to start showing up. Then she passes out before the party of the decade happens around her. Even Elvis Costello parties in her living room!! Teaching online is like planning for an amazing party. You've got all the food and all the decorations done, and everything's perfect, but it's 9:00 and nobody's here. And you fret because you've gone to SO MUCH WORK to make everything just right, and nobody's here and you're just sitting alone staring at a document or a message board or a forum waiting for a sign that someone's logging in. Those three dots or a flickering tiny icon in the upper right corner.... Something.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

We're Getting Re-opened in the Morning!

I'm picturing Alfred Doolittle singing that title.

Here's a rundown of my facebook page, where information mainly comes in images, saved here for the memories of what it was like the day before Ontario re-opened for business. Remember, just because you CAN go shopping again, doesn't mean you SHOULD!

According to some experts, people are relaxing way too soon!
"It seems many people are breathing some relief, and I’m not sure why. . . . If you don't solve the biology, the economy won't recover. . . . Successful Infection = Exposure to Virus x Time [a single infected cough is about the same as an hour near someone infected just breathing or 5 minutes of them talking - and avoid public bathrooms] . . . The majority of community-acquired transmissions occur from people without any symptoms. You can be shedding the virus into the environment for up to 5 days before symptoms begin. . . . The biggest outbreaks are in prisons, religious ceremonies [weddings and funerals], and workplaces. . . . Any environment that is enclosed, with poor air circulation and high density of people, spells trouble. [He also specifically mentions restaurants, birthday parties, indoor sports, stores, and public transportation, but somehow misses long term care homes.] You need to look at your environment and make judgments. How many people are here, how much airflow is there around me, and how long will I be in this environment."

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Chris Hedges on Revolution, Media, Prison, Corruption, and Hope

Chris Hedges, a former war correspondent for the New York Times - until they didn't like his anti-American coverage of the Iraq invasion - and an ordained minister, recently walked away (or was fired) from Truthdig in solidarity with Bob Scheer, and now he's in the middle of writing a book, but he spent an hour and a half talking about everything on The Jimmy Dore Show. I've transcribed some key points below under headings, with links and images. It's a little abridged and in a slightly altered order for clarity and brevity, and I also bolded pivotal statements for faster skimming, and added a table of contents!

     On a Revolution Against the Corrupt System
     On Journalism and the Role of the Media
     On Prison Education
     On Voting: Not Biden OR Bernie
     On Hope

On a Revolution Against the Corrupt System:

Hedges: We need to overthrow this system, not placate it. Revolution is almost always a doomed enterprise one that succeeds only when its leaders issue the practical and are endowed with what the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr calls sublime madness. Sanders lacks this quality and for this reason Sanders is morally and temperamentally unfit to lead this fight. (Also see Kate Manne on Sanders.)