Sunday, April 29, 2018

A Crackpot Posing as a Genius

I've been noticing many articles, recently, about the plight of loneliness. It's now linked to anxiety and depression, and addiction, and a former US Surgeon General calls it the most common threat to public health.

We blame the internet and social media for a loss of connection between people, but this piece was written in the 1940s:
"Loneliness is not solitude. Solitude requires being alone whereas loneliness shows itself most sharply in company with others. . . . it seems that Epictetus, the emancipated slave philosopher of Greek origin, was the first to distinguish between loneliness and solitude. . . . As Epictetus sees it the lonely man finds himself surrounded by others with whom he cannot establish contact or to whose hostility he is exposed. The solitary man, on the contrary, is alone and therefore "can be together with himself" since men have the capacity of 'talking with themselves.' In solitude, in other words, I am 'by myself,' together with my self, and therefore two-in-one, whereas in loneliness I am actually one, deserted by all others. . . . The problem of solitudes is that this two-in-one needs the others in order to become one again: one unchangeable individual whose identity can never be mistaken for that of any other. For the confirmation of any identity I depend entirely upon other people. . . .  
Solitude can become loneliness; this happens when all by myself I am deserted by my own self. Solitary men have always been in danger of loneliness, when they can no longer find the redeeming grace of companionship to save them from duality and equivocality and doubt. Historically, it seems as though this danger became sufficiently great to be noticed by others and recorded by history only in the nineteenth century. It showed itself clearly when philosophers, for whom alone solitude is a way of life and a condition of work, were no longer content with the fact that 'philosophy is only for the few' and began to insist that nobody 'understands' them. . . . Conversely, there is always the chance that a lonely man finds himself and starts the thinking dialogue of solitude" (476-7)."  
It's from Hannah Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Seeing Jane Goodall

A post in which I gush a bit about it all.

Jane came to my city last Wednesday night. I had so much to do this week, but I had the tickets already, so I went begrudgingly. Yet when she walked on stage, I surprised myself by getting a bit teary. It's a curious reaction to meeting a pivotal role model from my childhood, someone whose life I envied right up there with Farley Mowat's life (possibly) in Never Cry Wolf. And I didn't even meet her - we were one row from the furthest point from the stage. But still...

She radiates warmth and humour and genuine kindness. She embodies love and patience. She speaks slowly and deliberately as she sipped from a flask of whiskey throughout the evening. She's on a tour of speaking engagements which she does without taking a speaker's fee so that all the proceeds can go to saving habitat and animals and people. She's living a truly ethical life; she should be revered as a wise woman, an elder - one of very few who might be able to guide us out of this mess.

And here's what she told us (loosely paraphrased unless in quotation marks):

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

On Entitlement and Unfettered Rage

One of the benefits or downfalls of the internet is that it allows fringe groups to find each other online. When it comes to feeling like nobody in the world knows about climate change or the Myanmar genocide (or philosophy), because nobody in my immediate vicinity is too concerned or interested, then it's invaluable to find clusters of intelligent people writing about them regularly online. Finding people with the same concerns about the world can be a game-changer when you've all but given up on working towards a solution for a grave social injustice.

But it's a tragic downfall of cyberspace when the "social injustice" is that you can't get laid. People in some fringe groups who, as individuals, would all be seen as rare deviants in need of help, are able to find each other now, and cluster together to reinforce and normalize their warped version of reality.

Such is the case with the van killer in Toronto. I won't use his name because I hope it's forgotten and he's forgotten rather than becoming infamous. But we can't forget that he was part of a movement of "involuntary celibates" (incels) who are outraged at their misfortune with women. Instead of blaming their own approach or attitude or maybe something they said along the way, they put all the blame on women for not flocking to them they way they expected would happen.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Happy Earth Day

It's the 48th Earth Day, and it's the 20th anniversary of Mann's hockey stick graph made famous in Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth.

So we've known, for sure, that climate change is a human-made issue for a couple decades now, but Trudeau will still do what it takes to get pipelines built.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

On Peterson, Political Correctness, and Postmodernism

Peterson was on Bill Maher last night. They're both people that have some clever ideas, but also promote a few questionable notions in a way that's slick enough to just get a pass from some intelligent people instead of necessarily getting the scrutiny deserved. Here's an innocuous and pleasant exchange between mutual fans:


In the video Maher defined political correctness as, "the elevation of sensitivity over truth," and lamented the "emotional hemophiliacs" who will bleed at the littlest thing, but instead of avoiding sharp objects, they make the world cover everything in bubble wrap. Peterson went one step further: "It's more like the elevation of moral posturing of sensitivity over truth." He explained a bit about resilience: "Security doesn't come from making the world safe, because that's not possible. You make people resilient by exposing people to things that make them uncomfortable . . . over-coddling leads to stupid and narcissistic people."

Sunday, April 15, 2018

On Progressive Education - Seven Questions

I recently watched a film, Most Likely to Succeed, which has inspired a lengthy post about educational reform.


(If educational theory isn't your bag, then just scroll down to the next bit.)

Is it true that, "If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow"? It's highly probable that John Dewey never said it despite the misattribution making the rounds online. If you read just one or two of his essays, it's clearly not his typical wording and syntax (and now we can easily "command-F" our way through his books). Regardless the source, I believe we also do a disservice to education by tossing what we did yesterday in favour of the newest idea. New isn't always better.

Here's what Dewey does say, though,

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

On Extra Time and IEP Designations

We administered the literacy test yesterday with one new twist that most teachers weren't privy to until the previous evening: There would be no specific accommodations for students with IEPs (Individual Educational Programs) that call for extra time. Instead, we would allow extra time for anyone that needs it.

This is a significant shift in accommodating special needs. It's something I've done for years in my classroom, so I'm already on board. My rationale is about access to the IEP designation. To get an IEP, many students get a professional assessment. This can be done for free through publicly available psychometrists, but there's a wait list that's years long. Or, if you've got the kind of job that insures this, it can be done privately at a cost of two to three thousand dollars. So, right off the bat, there's a bit of a class issue around the designation. Adding to that, there's the fact that many parents aren't aware that this is a thing. Or, if they've heard about IEPs, they don't quite understand what they are or what they're for, and they're not sure they're necessarily a good thing. This all boils down to the reality that in any class, I'll have some kids with noticeable barriers to their ability to do the work who don't have an IEP in place. So I make my tests a bit shorter, then let them do other work once they finish, but let everyone have the full period if they need it.

The downside of this is that some of them slow right down. They take their sweet time and might not  learn to work efficiently, to train their brains to read and think and write all at once in a timely fashion. Thinking quickly is a skill that's useful in most jobs and definitely necessary in college and university. I can only hope that the offer of time to finish other work is enough to make them get their test off the table. My oldest progeny, with IEP in hand, ran into difficulties at university after many years of teachers giving them all the time in the world instead of their specifically allotted time and a half. Their first term was a disaster because they had never learned to write quickly.

For the lit test, one effect was immediate. In previous years, we might have up to a third of our students needing an extra time accommodation. This year, offering an extra 15 minutes per booklet for those who wanted to take it instead of leaving for the full break, plus allowing them to go to a "late room" (I prefer "extra time room") if they wanted more time than that, meant only a handful of students actually took extra time to finish.

What I wonder is, had students known ahead of time (like they will next year), would they have slowed down to take the full double time available? And, this year, sitting in a room where everyone is scrambling to finish in the usual allotted time, with most people getting up to leave at the earliest dismissal time for break and at the end, how many rushed to finish, when otherwise, in a room where everyone was designated extra time, they would have taken the time to craft a better final sentence and more thoroughly check over all their work? That's a concern, for sure.

Despite these potential issues, however, there's something else I really like about the shift. I'm not a fan of labels. I hate when I see people's behaviour mocked, then a bit of backstory about their childhood or their condition, maybe ADHD or ASD or whatever, and suddenly they're treated with more kindness and compassion. But we've all got some issues. We're all a little bit something. Imagine if we could treat one another with kindness and compassion without knowing any backstory! With the IEP designation, some students reveal the framework of their abilities, but others don't. Ignoring the designation, but accommodating everyone as needed, takes away the expectation of always needing the extra time, takes away the 'specialness' of certain kids, and provokes us to see the unique needs of each of our students. And each other.

With my own experiences as a mother with two children with an IEP, I found the process of discovering specific barriers can be enlightening and incredibly useful for the child and parent about half the time. I don't want to throw that away. But how we attend to all these types of designations could use a reworking. It will be interesting to see how this change plays out in the coming years.