Saturday, February 22, 2014

On Downloading

I'm a movie-junkie, and I'll happily pay to watch.  That's why I'm love Netflix.  But sometimes there are movies people want to see that aren't on Netflix.  They're out there, but not in a format that can offer remuneration.

So people download.

It seems like such a reasonable thing to do.  I understand that people should be compensated for their work.  Absolutely!  If that's possible to do conveniently, I bet most people would do it - or accept a reasonable fine tied to their viewing pleasure.  Thankfully, in Canada there's a $5,000 cap on damages awarded for copyright infringement.  That's lucky for many right now because a Federal Court has decided that Teksavvy has to hand over all the IP addresses of people who download movies.  Specifically, it's just a list of people who downloaded from Voltage Pictures, so some people might luck out if they haven't wanted to see any of their films.  

The fact that it's so much easier to download than to find a site to pay for the films is the heart of the problem.  Technology changes the way people work and play, and some industries haven't entirely figured out to how to continue to flourish within the new playing field.  When I watch The Daily Show on-line, I'm forced to suffer through commercials - strangely, often the same commercial over and over.  That's one way to get around the reality that many, many people are viewing on-line instead of using cable TV access to shows.

The film industry has to use services like Netflix to present their work in a way they can be compensated.  Instead of wasting time and money chasing after people viewing illegally, they should invest their efforts in making their films faster and easier for the general public to access.

And I promise people will still go to the theatre.  At least once a month, I go to a movie for the big screen, for the slimy popcorn, for the gasps and laughter in unison, and sometimes, just sometimes, for the air conditioning.  That won't go away because everything's available on-line.  They'll still get the bucks from the opening weekend - and then some.

After all, we will continue to need something to distract us from the real world.  That's not going to change any time soon!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Learning with the Olympics

We've been warned not to say anything publicly that could make our board or school or identifiable colleagues look bad in any way.  I don't think I'm doing that here.  I'm merely expressing a different opinion, and I expect I'll be in the minority of public opinion.  I'll really just be making myself look petty, yet I continue undeterred.  People can judge the board's tweets on their own merit without the help of my ranting.

The Olympics only happen once every four years (sort of).  And it's only for a limited time.  And it's all about celebrating our country's achievements.  But I need some clarification around what to do in class during this pivotal period of time in our history.  All week, I've been negotiating with kids watching on their phones while I tried to teach.  One student astutely pointed out, "They have it on all the TV screens in the school, so they obviously want us to watch it."

And the school board concurs:

This was sent out yesterday morning, and similar tweets previous to that, and it gives tacit permission for students to go ahead and enjoy the games even if it's not what your teacher had in mind.   They don't say that explicitly, but I'm willing to bet it's the message many students are getting.  The board twitter rep recanted briefly only when a student questioned if he could miss a test to watch the games, but their silence was permission when others tweeted about skipping school.  The Games are related to school (in some unmentioned way), so therefore it's acceptable to watch them during class time. 

I can think of a lot of things that are even more school-related that we don't allow students to do during class time.  Some teachers might want to try to stop students from doing math homework long enough to explain an English project during English class.        

But the Olympics is bigger than math.  It's an infrequent spectacle that brings our country together.  This is true.  And from that vantage point, it's really not a big deal to miss a little school for the sake of community.

But what is disconcerting about the board's view, and of many schools' practice of showing the Olympics in auditoriums, is how contrary it is to everything else we're being told this year.  Aye, there's the rub.

Shortly after reading the board's blessing, I replied with this tweet, tongue-in-cheek (couldn't copy and paste it as a tweet for some reason):
"I'm struggling to determine my learning goals for this activity as reflective of the essential learnings tied to my curriculum."
And then I swiftly deleted it.  People love the Olympics, and how dare I bring opposition onto the floor, particularly in a forum frequented by students hoping for a snow day and, at the very least, looking forward to an afternoon of passive viewing - a group, I hasten to add, who used many nasty words and threats when the board chose to keep school open on a very cold day this year.

But I maintain the sentiment.  Since September, we have been directed towards an approach to learning that must now overtly and clearly link everything we do in class to the curriculum.  There's no more room to go off on student-directed tangents until they run their course.  As I understand it - and my understanding of it shifts regularly - we are required to determine how best to evaluate student understanding of essential learnings based on each course's individual curriculum documents, then provide transparent learning goals daily (or close to daily) to help the students understand why and how they will reach the final target of satisfying the curriculum requirements.  For my purposes, it means if I have a class that is going to town on discrimination issues, we can't just take an extra week or two to do more exploration on it because then we won't have sufficient time to cover the rest of the learning expectations for the course.  And covered they must be or else no students, technically and officially, will have passed the course.

I'm getting on board with the more stringent approach, but how do the Olympics fit in here?  For some courses, it's an easy curricular tie-in.  Not mine.  Maybe I could fudge something but is that what the board is hoping we'll do?  Or are the AER rules out the window when it's convenient for them.  Or does school spirit trump AER?  I hope it does.  And I hope this series of tweets from the board office is an indication that we can all relax and not fret so when the AER-police drop in, as is expected, to ask our students what the learning goals and success criterion are for my specific lesson today.

It's a shame they didn't drop by this afternoon!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

On Flag Waving

The twin-cities, Kitchener and Waterloo, have both decided to put a rainbow flag inside city hall for the duration of the Olympics rather than fly one outside the building.

From The Record:
[Coun. Frank] Etherington [who proposed the motion] was critical of the city's flag solution. "My argument was (putting the flag inside) in no way was as good as a very open, very public demonstration of the city's support for gay athletes and to protest the Russian laws which discriminate," he said. "There's no comparison between the two (flag options) … one tucked away inside the rotunda and the other flying."
Many cities have decided to fly the flag outside their city hall including Ottawa, Edmonton, Montreal, Guelph, Hamilton, and, yes, even Toronto has a flag on a "courtesy flagpole" outside city hall despite Ford's protests.

Some Mayors, like Ottawa's Jim Watson, "ordered the pride flag raised immediately."

But not us.

I'd like to address one type of comment in support of K-W's position runs along the lines of, "But the Canadian flag already supports being inclusive.  That's all we need."  Some see our flag as representative of the Charter even though the flag came out in 1965 and the Charter in 1982.

The flag is a symbol of Canada, and Canada is not inclusive.  We need to acknowledge that fact and a few raised flags might be a symbol of our effort to develop that myth of inclusivity into a reality.  I'd like to go further than the Olympic issue to see at least three flags raised until no longer necessary, until we've proven ourselves in the eyes of the excluded:

1.  The Rainbow/Pride Flag.  We just put a transgender woman in a male prison cell.  We still have way too many LGBTQ teenagers committing or attempting suicide because they can't take the bullying - much of which happens in our public school systems.  We are so much better than many countries on this front, legalizing gay marriage nine whole years ago.  But being better than some, doesn't make the slip-ups any more acceptable.  We're still working on this one even if we like to think we're done.

2.  First Nation Flags.  Do I have to say anything about the unbelievable treatment of First Nation peoples in Canada?  About the schools being inequitable even though it's right in the Constitution Act of 1982, Part III (the charter is Part I),  that Parliament and the legislatures are committed to...
"(a) promoting equal opportunities for the well-being of Canadians; (b) furthering economic development to reduce disparity in opportunities; and (c) providing essential public services of reasonable quality to all Canadians."
People often call on residential schools as the main indicator of Canada's poor treatment of the First Nations, then respond to their own concern with, "But that's all over now.  It's all in the past."  Straw man much?   We haven't stopped discriminating.  If we can't take the land, we'll use it as a garbage dump.  On it goes.  Blarg.

3.  Anti-Slavery Flags.  I'm not sure how to word this one, or what kind of flag to encourage, but we haven't stopped using slaves to do our work, we've just outsourced them to other countries.  We benefit from the work of teenagers working over 60 hours a week for token pay in China so we can have cheap products here.  We turn a blind eye to actual slavery, just as bad or worse as anything that happened in 12 Years a Slave, on cocao plantations so we can eat cheap chocolate.  Until we refuse to support slavery conditions worldwide, I can't understand how we can call ourselves inclusive.  Inclusive shouldn't be allowed to mean, "We'll be nice to you and give you equal rights and all if you're on our soil, but otherwise we'll totally screw you over for our own benefit. "

No, Canada is neither inclusive nor equitable.  I think we're trying, though.  And I hope that the one good thing Harper's government is doing is helping us find one another, find the marginalized and supporters among us who are willing to rally for real change.  Something like that.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

On Mesothelioma: Dying to be Heard

Today isn't just Groundhog's Day, it's "Lung Leavin' Day" - a commemorative day sparked by Heather Von St. James who had her lung removed eight years ago today due to mesothelioma.  Check out the ritual she cultivated on her website and an interview with her here.  This is a very specific cancer caused by asbestos exposure.  Most people diagnosed don't last a year, but she was lucky to find a specialist who was willing to remove a lung to save her life.

How to tell if your tiles are asbestos.
She wore her dad's work coat as a kid.  That's all it takes.

Asbestos is in many older building - any construction done in your home or workplace pre-1980s might mean you have asbestos lurking somewhere:  insulation in your attic or ceiling tiles above your head as you work.  It's one of those things I try not to think about too much as I go about my day in my 87-year-old house, and 159-year-old school.  And let's not talk about the number of old houses I've gutted over the years when I stupidly took no precautions, as I'm sure many don't.

Somehow I'm wary of lead paint, wearing full body-armour and a ventilator to strip wood, but oblivious to asbestos wearing only a t-shirt and shorts to put in a floor on top of the attic insulation.  Attention must be paid.

And some still want to export it.
"As recently as 2010, Canada was producing 150,000 tonnes of asbestos annually, all of it in Quebec, and exporting 90 per cent — worth about $90 million — to developing countries. More than 50 countries ban the mining and use of asbestos because it causes cancer, but Canada, traditionally a major exporter, has successfully lobbied in the past to keep it off a UN list of hazardous substances."
A park in Sarnia - a former asbestos producer - was recently closed last spring because they found asbestos in the soil.
The Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, Quebec.
Premier Pauline Marois
The Jeffrey Mine in Quebec is the last of them, and the province, under Marois, refused to financially help them restart production.  Ottawa offered $50 million to keep the plant open, but Quebec refused it.  And a lot of people lost their jobs.   It's been "temporarily closed" since October 2011.

It's a hopeful sign, at the very least, that some politicians can sometimes see the forest for the trees.  It's always horrible to take away jobs from people in need, but those jobs are deadly -  for the employees, their families, and anyone working with the product down the line.   We have to focus on the bigger picture in everything we do from here on in.  Of course we need sufficient help for those affected by the immediate changes to our economy, but change it must.