Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Parenting in the Time of Covid

He was on his way out the door, to walk around with a new friend outside. 

Me: Rapid test, masks, or walking 6' apart? Which are you doing?

Him: It bothers me that you ask. I shouldn't have to live with your anxieties. You just ask because you're anxious about it, and your anxieties shouldn't have an effect on my life.

Me: You're going to hang out with someone and then come back into the house with other people who are vulnerable. Omicron is far more contagious, so being outside isn't enough. There is a very real risk that you could catch and spread the virus walking outside next to someone if you're both unmasked. You have to choose one of the three. Either she tests before you go, or you both wear masks, or you walk far apart. 

Him: But that fact that you ask means you don't trust me. I know what I'm doing. I read the research.

Me: I read the research too, which says that we need to start masking outside. I trust that you'll follow your own risk assessment. But I think we have different risk levels that we're comfortable with. I accept far less risk because your sister is way past needing a booster. Once she gets it - if that ever happens - I might be less inclined to check that your risk levels are in line with mine. Right now, I want some reassurance that your plan is in line with my lower level of risk comfort. 

I'm at the "My house - my rules!" point in the pandemic. It makes it very difficult to live with adult children - for everybody. He said he'd be gone an hour; he was out for five hours. I'm happy he's meeting people and getting out there, but I'm also really glad that I pushed him to wear a mask! Here's hoping that he actually kept it on!

ETA:Turns out, she was on it. She insisted on rapid testing first and wearing a mask outside. Thank god for small favours!

Monday, December 27, 2021

On "Fixing" ASD

I watched a course-load of videos by Dr. Alok Kanojia (@HealthyGamerGG) this past summer. He's a therapist specializing in addiction in his day job and focused on gaming addictions online, but he has broadened his videos to encompass many other issues. He doesn't do therapy online but "coaches" people instead. And typically right there I'd be out. Coaching?? It all sounds a little goofy and new-agey. But I got hooked when I first saw his video with Natalie Wynn (aka ContraPoints) the previous October because of his openness to really listen to her experiences and learn from them before asking the precisely right questions necessary to get her to understand herself at further depth. And then they meditated. It's a mix of Freud and a mountain top guru; at the very least I'm learning lots of Sanskrit words in the process.

I appreciate how he let Natalie explain her experience as a trans person, BUT then I saw a more recent video with a streamer, DesMephisto, taking about being autistic. Dr. K focused on fixing their ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). He often uses an addiction analogy to explain that, generally, first we need to understand and accept who we are, like we have to accept being an addict, but we don't stop at acceptance; the next task it to change ourselves so we can better live in the world. And then he asked Des what many consider an offensive question: "If I gave you a pill that would make you no longer autistic, would you take it?" 


If that doesn't seem offensive, then imagine if he had asked Natalie that same question about being trans. It doesn't even make sense. 

Friday, December 24, 2021

Chomsky's Lessons from 2021

Yanis Varoufakis spoke to Noam Chomsky, at DiEM25, about what 2021 has taught us. In a nutshell: the wealthy puts profits over people to their own detriment (e.g. patent rights over vaccines, which provoked mutations) and will only help with climate change if they can profit without taking risks. We have climate policies that could help, but we need more protesting to force this change. The U.S. citizens have been convinced of lies around climate change and world politics. Europe needs to stand up to lead instead of following the US, and we need to negotiate better with China or we'll end up in a terminal war. We must focus on what we might actually influence - i.e. our own country's acts of atrocity. Don't seek protection from ideas you don't like, but meet them head on with intellectual rigour (abridged quotations below).

Sunday, November 28, 2021

On Trying to Find Peace with Prem Rawat

Since falling into a pandemic funk, I've tried a variety of books and videos to try to get a little inner stillness in order to continue to function. Omicron and our region's rising numbers aren't helping matters! I'm crap at meditating, but Healthy Gamer's course (my notes) came the closest to getting me on board. The modules walk you through the background of breathing exercises, and how they work in the body, and I stayed with the lessons largely because the work to do is all thinking and learning instead of doing. When the course came to a close, and I tried the doing part, it quickly fell apart. I keep trying again from time to time, but I'm still looking for something that will help it all stick for me. A colleague loaned me Hear Yourself by Prem Rawat, which is all about calming that inner dialogue. 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Still Going On about Masks!!

I've never been much of a rule-follower. I'm that teacher that lets kids sneak out early and shows movies with some questionable content (with kids forewarned and allowed to leave if triggered - none ever do). I go way outside of curriculum guidelines, allowing the class to guide the direction of discussion. In teacher's college, students in my first practicum told me a dirty joke. Back in school, other practicing teachers asked what I did: Did I give them detentions or send them to the office? No, I laughed. It was at that moment I vowed to be a teacher, not a cop - imparting knowledge without policing behaviours that aren't hurtful to anyone. I've always hated when schools feel like prisons, training grounds for factories with bells that tell us what to do, when, and for how long. 

But I do follow rules that make sense. And masks make sense. I even follow more than the rules suggest because our policies don't go nearly far enough to keep us safe.

So now I'm completely demoralized by suddenly being the enforcer in the classroom. 

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Srinivasan's "The Right to Sex"

"It is absurd to contend that vice, ecstasy, and passion would become impossible if man and woman were concretely peers" (xiii).  ~ Simone de Beauvoir

Amia Srinivasan's book rivals Kate Manne's fantastic Down Girl in the most exciting way. It's an absolute must read for anyone hoping to improve themselves and the world as we're led incrementally through issues around sexual tensions and traumas all with an intersectional lens. This is a collection of five essays that, she explains, "represent my attempt to put into words what many women, and some men, already know. This has already been the way of feminism: women working collectively to articulate the unsaid, the formerly unsayable" (xv). I mainly focus on the first and final essays, with the others laying further evidence for the primary argument.


She starts by looking at the 8% of sexual assault reports that have been classified as false based on a police officer's personal judgment. 

"Police officers were inclined to consider a report false if there hadn't been a physical struggle, if no weapon had been involved, or if the accuser had had a prior relationship with the accused. [Of the suspected false reports] none resulted in wrongful conviction. . . . Nonetheless, a false rape accusation, like a plane crash, is an objectively unusual event that occupies an outsized place in the public imagination. why then does it carry its cultural charge? . . .  Many, perhaps most, wrongful convictions of rape result from false accusations levied against men by other men: by cops and prosecutors, overwhelmingly male, intent on pinning an actual rape on the wrong suspect. . . . Over half of their cases involved 'official misconduct'" (3-4).

Saturday, October 30, 2021

On Burnout

Dr. Alok Kanojia is a psychiatrist who specializes in addiction treatment. His videos are fantastic for some everyday issues as well, like this one on burnout. The most impactful line from this video is that burnout tends to happen when, "people who want to do a good job are placed in situations in which doing a good job is very, very difficult." It's not because you're lazy or a bad fit with your career, but that your workplace isn't acknowledging their part in making a job unnecessarily difficult. And it tends to happen more to people who actually care about what they're doing, not people who are just putting in hours. He says,

"One of the biggest scams that's currently being perpetrated against people about burnout and mental wellness . . . that's subtle and society wide . . . people are placing the responsibility for burnout on the individual. . . . . Burnout affects the individual . . . so there's a subtle scam going on that once you label it as an individual problem . . . then you work on it as an individuals. It's a catastrophic shift of responsibility from the workplace to the individual."

Monbiot on our Current Challenge

George Monbiot wrote an article that he's calling his best bit of writing. It's largely more of the same argument that people can't seem to hear or respond to. We're ignoring the changes in the world at our peril. 

In the back of our minds, there’s a voice whispering, “If it were really so serious, someone would stop us.” If we attend to these issues at all, we do so in ways that are petty, tokenistic, comically ill-matched to the scale of our predicament. . . . In normal conditions, the system regulates itself, maintaining a state of equilibrium. It can absorb stress up to a certain point. But then it suddenly flips. It passes a tipping point, then falls into a new state of equilibrium, which is often impossible to reverse. . . . If one system crashes, it is likely to drag others down, triggering a cascade of chaos known as systemic environmental collapse. . . . vast tracts of the Cerrado have been cleared to plant crops – mostly soya to feed the world’s chickens and pigs. As the trees are felled, the air becomes drier. This means smaller plants die, ensuring that even less water is circulated. In combination with global heating, some scientists warn, this vicious cycle could – soon and suddenly – flip the entire system into desert.

The mainstream media treats it as an afterthought. Chomsky has been on about this for decades: we keep getting distracted by sports and entertainment when the world needs our attention. Even in political news, we focus on the wrong things. 

Saturday, October 16, 2021

On Moral Injury

I just re-read a post full of sound and fury that I wrote last year at this time, detailing my initial shock at our unsafe and unprecedentedly intense working conditions at the time. The only policy improvements since then is that students don't have to be in the building during lunch and that we flip two courses every week so we only work five days without prep instead of seven months. What's worse is that there are twice as many in the building, and kids know they can take off their masks all the time to eat or drink. Teachers are finally allowed to wear their own masks openly (I've been hiding mine the whole time) while kids are getting lax about theirs (some teachers too due to vaccine-provoked complacency), and we have no recourse to stop them - excepting being that bitch of a teacher who won't let her kids take a sip of water in class! I realized how many rules at school I've ignored over the years to students' delight, and it sucks to suddenly be seen as a hard ass. The rules still don't make sense. We still err on the side of privacy instead of saving lives by stopping the spread. We still provide businesses with free rapid tests (paid for with our taxes) and leave the $40 option for unvaccinated children. The world feels crazy in its callousness.  

Then Dr. Hishram Ziauddeen's twitter post on moral injury really hit it home for me. Here it is in full with just minor punctuation adjusted for clarity: 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Nobody's Rules

UPDATE: As of Oct. 14, teachers are allowed to wear their own quality masks, no more suspensions for that, but still have to wear board-mandated floppy masks on top because... reasons (likely to satisfy a backroom deal with suppliers). Still no access to rapid tests, and I have a class with a Covid confirmed (but officially no contact with others since having it), and several others absent because of "illness." No test = no covid spread!! I suggested the rest of the class notice the number of empty desks in the room and get a rapid test just in case.  


We're becoming subject to unrest in our schools and hospitals, with anti-vax picketers yelling at cancer patients and school children alike: "Stop being sheep! Take off your mask!" It's not the fault of our government, not directly, although the province next door somehow managed to draft a bill to end the protests while ours was still on vacation. It's Nobody's fault. That's how this works. It's hard to live through it when you're on the receiving end of rules that make no sense and Nobody will answer for it. Just close your eyes and think of England.

In her shortest book, On Violence, philosopher and journalist Hannah Arendt describes the problem with our bureaucratic system: 
 "The latest and perhaps most formidable form of dominion: bureaucracy or the rule of an intricate system of bureaus in which no men, neither one nor the best, neither the few nor the many, can be held responsible, and which could be properly called rule by Nobody. If we identify tyranny as government that is not held to give account of itself, rule by Nobody is clearly the most tyrannical of all, since there is no one left who could even be asked to answer for what is being done. It is this state of affairs, making it impossible to localize responsibility and to identify the enemy, that is among the most potent causes of the current worldwide rebellious unrest, its chaotic nature, and its dangerous tendency to get out of control" (38-9). 
Educators are witness to these effects.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

The View from Here: Preventing School Spread of Covid-19

Stuck in another gruelling semester of school, it's striking how a minor schedule change can completely disrupt time and energy. I'm falling asleep as soon as I get home! But that's also from additional stressors, like all the rapid tests being repossessed by the Ford government for business use only. We need PHUs, school boards, unions, and businesses all to stand up to any governmental rules that support business at the expense of our children, despite any consequences they may incur. That's courageous leadership. We need free rapid tests in our community, HEPA filters in our classrooms (or at least a Corsi/Rosenthal box), mandatory vaccinations for staff and students over 11, and mandatory N95/KN95/KF94 masks worn in the building at all times. OR we have to acknowledge that we've decided to tolerate this virus longterm. 

It's become so painfully clear that Ford will always favour profits over people. Businesses get the perks, and children are left to their own devises. Nothing has been more demoralizing to me than knowing a team of volunteers brought rapid tests to kids to prevent the spread but then "got caught" with the contraband and were stopped from distributing them. Part of the argument for denying children access is that kids don't get as sick, so don't need them as much as adults do, BUT 1. there are adults in schools, 2. kids can spread it to parents and grandparents, and 3. many kids who get a mild case or are completely asymptomatic end up with LongCovid, which could mean a lifelong disability. Always keep in mind that creating a system that doesn't work can beautifully pave the way towards privatization of education. We have to be ever alert to that covert plan. 

Sunday, August 22, 2021

On Work and Connection

 I just read this lovely essay by Esau McCaulley. In it he discusses how our new nearness to death has affected our lives:

"This pandemic has left conversations and lives cut short. And it seems to be bringing a similar clarity to people about their priorities. . . . All these changes that people are embarking on during the pandemic make me think that we weren't that happy before the pandemic. . . . The pandemic has disabused us of the illusion of time as a limitless resource and of the false promise that the sacrifices we make for our careers are always worth it. Before the pandemic, we knew we were going to die, but we did not believe it. . . . Exercise and a reasonable diet was the tithe we paid to our fears. We believed we had time.  
This opportunity made plain what may have been hidden. Maybe the sacrifices we make for our careers are not worth it. When we had the illusion of time, the lower pay, long commutes, high cost of living and separation from loved ones seemed a small price to pay for a successful career. But the pandemic reminded us that there are some things more important than vocational progress. Friends with children came to see that living far from family meant that they did not have a social network that could help them when school and life logistics became difficult. Covid-19 showed us that when systems break we need people. . . . Being at home helped many people realize how lonely they were before the pandemic and how few people they could really turn to in need. The pandemic has reminded us that life is more than what we do. It is about whom we spend our lives with. We cannot hug a career or laugh with a promotion. We are made for friendship, love and community."

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Self-Diagnosis with Checklist Criteria: the Big Five and ASD

When I was a kid, my folks said I was a little slow to warm up to people and sometimes needed a nudge to interact. Then, in grade 11, we all had to do this really long test, filling in stacks of Scantron-type cards with our answers, which were fed into a giant computer that generated reports for each of us, which required a specialist to come in to interpret. The upshot of it all? I'm introverted, an INTP, and I should consider a career as a minister. Then twenty years later, I went to grad school and took a course in Carl Jung, including his typology. We were given a test to do, on paper, which was sent away to be carefully analyzed by a specialist. I got a 30 page typed report in return that said I'm still an INTP, and that can't predict my career goals (assuming it can is a fallacy of affirming the consequent*), but it can help me understand and accept why I need so much alone time, why I struggle to notice the mess I leave in my wake in a way that my partner (ex-partner) finds inexcusable, why I'm good at getting stuff done, and why I'm so scattered. This was a special privilege, getting this 30-paged report, offered only to us because we were taking the course. But another twenty years went by (damn, I'm old!), and now anybody can do these tests online and find out all about themselves. And it's FREE!!!  

Friday, July 16, 2021

Next Steps: Violence? Policy? Adaptation? Acceptance?

Ezra Klein wrote a compelling piece about Andreas Malm's book How to Blow Up a Pipeline. We're not doing enough to stop the trainwreck we're driving, but is violence the answer?

"Decades of climate activism have gotten millions of people into the streets but they haven’t turned the tide on emissions, or even investments. . . . 'Here is what this movement of millions should do, for a start,' Malm writes. 'Announce and enforce the prohibition. Damage and destroy new CO2-emitting devices. Put them out of commission, pick them apart, demolish them, burn them, blow them up. Let the capitalists who keep on investing in the fire know that their properties will be trashed.' . . . Malm offers two answers for the resolute nonviolence of the climate movement. The first is “strategic pacificism,” the belief that nonviolent protest is more effective than violent resistance. . . . He has no answers for those who fear the probable political consequences: an immediate backlash that sweeps enemies of climate action into power, eliminating even the fragile hopes for policy progress. . . . Elsewhere in the book, Malm is firmly opposed to tactics that could signal contempt or hostility for the working class. But the consequence of a wave of bombings to obliterate energy infrastructure would be to raise the price on energy immediately, all across the world, and the burdens would fall heaviest on the poor. . . . . Higher energy prices are political poison, which is, according to leaked audio, why Exxon Mobil supports a carbon tax: The company knows that any politician who dares propose such a tax will do more to harm the climate movement than to help it. . . .

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Wolff on Generating Allies

Whenever I read or listen to Noam Chomsky or Chris Hedges talk about citizens changing the world like they did in the 30s, I get equally riled to action and then paralyzed by ignorance of how ever to begin. A recent discussion by Richard Wolff offers a bigger hint about how the New Deal was manifest, and why it's so much harder to get going now. Here's a very abridged and paraphrased summary:

In the 30s, FDR faced similar issues as Biden is facing now, but he was able to make fundamental structural changes to the economy that were bold for the time: social security at a time when the government had no money and millions were eligible, unemployment compensation, the first minimum wage laws, a government jobs program in the public sector, and he taxed corporations and the rich to pay for it. The government's job is not to make money but to help the people. The changes made the system much less unequal, and it took Republicans 80 years to get it back to the level of inequity not seen since. By contrast, Biden isn't making the spending programs that he needs, and he's afraid to tax anyone.   

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

MacKinnon's Call to Stop Shopping

J.B. MacKinnon co-wrote the 100-Mile Diet years ago, which was a good read. It didn't have much effect on my eating because it was a bit too extreme for even me, but it DID affect my awareness of where I get produce from. For his most recent book, he compiled stories from various people to get different perspectives of one question: What would happen if we reduced consuming by 25% immediately? It's very readable, but it circles around a bit, and he doesn't really provide a clear or persuasive argument for reducing our shopping, as I was expecting. He's mainly just pondering the notion. 

He starts with a series of famous quotations, and I like this one by Ivan Illich: "In a consumer society there are inevitably two kinds of slaves: the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy" (from Tools for Conviviality, p. 57). Of course I got stuck there a while and had to read some Illich, so here's the context: 

"The parallel increase in the cost of the defense of new levels of privilege through military, police, and insurance measures reflects the fact that in a consumer society there are inevitably two kinds of slaves: the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy. Political debate must now be focused on the various ways in which unlimited production threatens human life. This political debate will be misled by those who insist on prescribing palliatives which only disguise the deep reasons why the systems of health, transport, education, housing, and even politics and law are not working. The environmental crisis, for example, is rendered superficial if it is not pointed out that antipollution devices can only be effective if the total output of production decreases. Otherwise they tend to shift garbage out of sight, push it into the future, or dump it onto the poor. The total removal of the pollution created locally by a large-scale industry requires equipment, material, and energy that can create several times the damage elsewhere. Making antipollution devices compulsory only increases the unit cost of the product. This may conserve some fresh air for all, because fewer people can afford to drive cars or sleep in air-conditioned homes or fly to a fishing ground on the weekend, but it replaces damage to the physical environment with further social disintegration. To shift from coal to atomic power replaces smog now with higher radiation levels tomorrow. To relocate refineries overseas, where pollution controls are less stringent, preserves Americans-not Venezuelans-from unpleasant odors at the cost of higher levels of world-wide poisoning." 

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Timothy Snyder on the War on History

In "The War on History was a War on Democracy," Snyder compares Russian memory laws, which we're quick to recognize as propaganda, to American under Trump:  

By March 1932, hundreds of thousands of people were already starving to death in Soviet Ukraine, the breadbasket of the country. Rapid industrialization was financed by destroying traditional agrarian life. The five-year plan had brought “dekulakization,” the deportation of peasants deemed more prosperous than others, and “collectivization,” the appropriation of agrarian land by the state. A result was mass famine. . . . Mentions of the famine included an awkwardly long list of regions, downplaying the specificity of the Ukrainian tragedy. The famine was presented as a result of administrative mistakes by a neutral state apparatus. Everyone was a victim, and so no one was. In a 2008 letter to his Ukrainian counterpart, the Russian president Dmitri Medvedev flattened the event into an act of repression “against the entire Soviet people.” The next year Medvedev established the Presidential Commission of the Russian Federation to Counter Attempts to Falsify History to the Detriment of Russia’s Interests, a panel of politicians, military officials and state-approved historians ostensibly tasked with defending the official history of the Soviet Union’s role in World War II. It did little in practice, but it did establish an important principle: that history was what served Russia’s national interests, and that all else was revisionism. . . . These Russian policies belong to a growing international body of what are called “memory laws”: government actions designed to guide public interpretation of the past. Such measures work by asserting a mandatory view of historical events, by forbidding the discussion of historical facts or interpretations or by providing vague guidelines that lead to self-censorship.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Future of the Left with Natalie and Noam

I stumbled across a video of Natalie Wynn in conversation with flippin' Noam Chomsky. They are two of my favourite thinkers, but I never, in my wildest imagination, would have expected to find them chatting together. 

Noam seems to be everywhere these days, doing one talk after another, and Natalie is an excellent guide through his version of optimism. It's a video that actually left me feeling hopeful about the world and energized to keep working for change. But the question I wanted asked throughout is, What does this type of necessary work look like, and how do we begin?? 

Monday, June 14, 2021

Paranoid or Prescient? Does it matter?

It's interesting to me when people make fun of anyone taking what they perceive as undue precautions. There are two general reasons for precautions that seem unreasonable: #1 a lack of education or understanding on the part of the viewer and #2 a means to cope with stress on the part of the actor, i.e. a superstition. You'd think that neither of those scenarios would be enough to elicit harassment, but we're not there yet. 

A great example of the former is when a neighbour was gardening in front of her house and her daughter asked to go inside. The mum had to get up to unlock the front door. So, that seems weird, right? She locks her door even when she's standing ten feet in front of it?? But she explained that, since her husband's a cop, she's acutely aware of how easily and how often people's homes are robbed, even with the owners standing right out front. This is a case of the actor having more information than the viewer. I still leave my doors unlocked when I'm in the yard, but I understand why she doesn't. 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Unpopular Opinions: On Failing Credits, Teaching Hybrid, and Grading Student Work!

Riding on my high that a post-covid education system could be different, I joined a committee. It quickly killed my buzz with a reminder that bureaucracy will only allow choices between a very narrow range of options. But I also appear to be in the minority of teachers on many ideas discussed, including this one...

Regardless, I'll state (or re-state) my case for letting kids fail, teaching hybrid, and assigning numeric grades. 

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Kolbert's Under a White Sky

It's World Environment Day (who knew?!), and the Independent published a collection of hopeful messages despite the world not being on track to keep temperatures below two degrees this century. Some are pinning cautious optimism on youth climate movements. Others are hopeful that this time, at COP26, things might be different since tackling climate can transform society. If we fix this one big problem, then everything will be better. Others point to stats: 70% of GDP in the UK is covered by net-zero targets, up from 30%, and the G7 is taking steps towards decarbonizing the power system. And others focus on a court case won against Shell as a reason to look forward to the future. Generally, they acknowledged that "the geopolitical landscape around climate change has shifted seismically." I've seen that shift too, in my classroom, where climate change is finally (finally?) a concern for students, but I'm not quite as hopeful. 

And then I finished Elizabeth Kolbert's book, Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future

Kolbert wrote the provocative Sixth Extinction, and her writing here is just as clear and concise but far more poetic and often humorous. This new book has a few black and white photos but should really be re-released with colour pictures of all the incredible things she describes in her journey through beautiful landscapes to talk with fascinating people in order to find solutions to the problems plaguing our planet. Although they discuss many of the same things, this is the antithesis of Mann's most recent book both in style and in substance. Kolbert's book focuses on specific examples to explore each new technology, which makes it more accessible for the non-scientist, while also looking more profoundly at the conundrum we're in.

Kolbert's guiding question is the Jurassic Park nugget: now that we know we can change the world, should we? If we fix one mistake, it often creates another, but "What do you call natural selection after The End of Nature?" (97). Do we even have a natural environment to make unnatural with our technology? This is "a book about people trying to solve problems create by people trying to solve problems" (200).

Monday, May 24, 2021

Post-Covid Educational Reform

 I try to restrain any excitement that bubbles up over the prospect that education will be different when all this ends, assuming it will end. Teachers have suddenly had to learn how to teach in radically different ways, and some of that is gold! But I'm pretty sure we'll end up falling into line again when the time comes. We want everything to be normal again, to get some comfort through familiarity and routine, but now would be the perfect time to bust open some faulty systems that we've accepted as "just the way it's done". 

Many are focusing on the problems Covid-19 has created in schools, but Jonathan Kurtz, in ASCD Express, assembled student responses to a survey he conducted asking for about what changes they actually liked


In my casual conversations with students, many love that they have more time for hobbies and to go for long hikes or read more during the afternoons, and then finish homework in the evenings. In some ways, everything feels more rushed, but since teachers have been forced to condense the work and make every minute count, students benefit from some breathing time. Kurtz says,

"Even with the lost instructional time, I was able to get further with one of my classes than in the past through maximizing formative assessment. I collected more data from each student, and if students were ready to move on, they did. If they struggled, I worked with them during student support time to fill in the gaps. If the whole class struggled, I retaught using a different format. The mix of group time two to three days a week coupled with unstructured support time has made all of us to be more intentional about how we use our time."

Kurtz discusses the later waking times that come with rolling out of bed seconds before class begins, and hopes there's some way to get later start times at his school. It's always very complicated with bussing and sports and other synchronous programs, but it's possible if we make it a priority. 

I love the flexibility of our time. If my lesson is over, I don't have to find a video or further examples from Plan B to take us to the bell. We just stop. And if we're not done talking, we keep going. Our time together is entirely about learning and not about fitting a specific number of minutes.  Kurtz advises rethinking "seat time" away from the "Carnegie unit of 120 hours of class time." Absolutely! I'm not sure what that would actually look like in a school, but I'm willing to find out. There are all sorts of legal reasons, I believe, for tracking attendance, but what if we just tracked understanding in a variety of ways, and ignored how often students were actually in the room with us? And Kurtz asks a most important question: "Do we care about learning, or the appearance of learning?" 


Students love to be able to plan their time better, in a way that works for them. Kurtz says,

About 13 percent of my students reported a decrease in anxiety levels and said they are thriving on the independence virtual learning afforded. One student said, "I feel like I can complete my work way more efficiently due to the fact I don't have to spend hours on end listening to lectures … or just sitting in class unable to be productive. Also, my test anxiety has gotten much better … I feel like I'm actually learning as opposed to drilling terms into my head out of stress that I will forget in a month.

Instead of my typical routine of planning and posting lessons day by day, I posted my entire class worth of work at the beginning of each quadmester, organized by date. A couple found it overwhelming at first, but at the end, everyone said they liked to be able to see what would be coming next. And there are always a few in every class that want to work ahead. I can't understand why we don't encourage that except for the overblown concern that they might have nothing to do later. Good for them! Let them read a book or do their math work instead of focusing 100% on my subject in my subject time. Some kids know that a course is their 'extra' class or they find it really easy, or they love it and get it done first, leaving their other classes for later. That's how I work too whenever I have many things on my plate. They've developed strategies for getting everything done, and it makes no sense to put up barriers to prevent these choices. 


Many people with disabilities have commented that finally teachers and workplaces are allowing people to work in ways that work for them, that enable more productivity in some cases. It's something they've requested for decades, to be told that it's just not possible. How frustrating is it to see just how possible it all is, but only when it's no longer a 'minority issue'! Kurtz explains,

In my program, 63 percent of students said they were interested in more asynchronous virtual courses. One of my students shared that her grades are better, she is more confident, and she is happier this year than she ever has been in the past. She suffers from a social anxiety disorder and was never able to fully concentrate on studies because of the anxiety sparked by a crowded building. 

Social anxiety, physical disabilities, cognitive difficulties that require repeated instruction or a quieter space, vision and hearing difficulties, allergies, bullying, childcare, work... There are so many reasons that some people find it significantly easier to learn from home. At this point it feels unconscionable that we haven't found a way to address this before now.  I know we're hoping to never teach a hybrid method again, but there are clearly some people who are better served by this model, and we can't just ignore that. Kuntz adds, "If we retain fully virtual education for those who want it, in-person class sizes would shrink, which creates a more efficient use of space." It might seem onerous, particularly for one or two kids in each class, but it's very possible to keep streaming meets so the kids at home can learn at the same time. It makes me think of the classroom setup for The Boy in the Plastic Bubble from the 70s. We knew we could do this all along, we just didn't want to.


Kuntz suggests we need to abandon the "industrial-complex model" of education that polices more than it educates. While we're in the processes of dreaming about change, like the students, I love having working time at home. Forcing teachers to prep from school is just a means of policing teachers, which undermines any claims that we're professionals. In Finnish schools, teachers are only in the building during their classes, and then they can prepare and mark from wherever works best for them. Having prepped for the quad already, and the fact that I mark everything within 24 hours, means that this current lockdown has saved me from spending two full weeks going to work to find a corner of the hot, stuffy building that's less occupied, wearing a mask the entire time, just to read books all day and pace, waiting for the final bell to ring. Schools shouldn't feel like cages for anybody. We can do better.

ETA: This post was discussed on VoicEd Radio from 27:45 to 34 minutes. 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Kendi's How to be an Antiracist

Nearing the end of my two-week long prep period at the END of a year that slayed me with back-to-back senior courses, and I'm finally getting caught up on my reading!

Just on Friday, Vancouver police were looking for a 40-year-old suspect, and arrested an 81-year-old Black man who happened to be a former judge with much to say about the state of the police department that would shackle a man on an early morning walk. We know how horrifically racist some police actions have been, and Ibram X. Kendi's bestseller takes us through to solutions for it all. It's a beautifully written  book that takes us step by step through his own journey from racism/not-racism towards antiracism mixed in with related history for context. It reads like a biography, and then you realize you've been significantly educated by the end of it! I added a few more points to this Canada/US history of colonization chart to avoid cluttering up the main ideas below.


He starts each chapter with definitions to help us see the more useful perception of these problems. Here are two key sets of terms:

non-racist / neutral / colourblind 

"The claim of 'not racist' neutrality is a mask for racism" (7). "The construct of race neutrality actually feeds White nationalist victimhood by positing the notion that any policy protecting or advancing non-White Americans towards equity is 'reverse discrimination'" (20). "White people have their own dueling consciousness, between the segregationist [separate people who don't accept the dominant culture] and the assimilationist [adopt the dominant culture's way of life]: the slave trader and the missionary" (31).

Got a Better Idea?

When I was little, my parents told me never to complain unless I have a better idea or a solution that can work. They likely did that to stop me from complaining so much, but it's actually pretty good advice. I was thinking about that watching the news about the anti-lockdown protests yesterday. Nobody wants to be in lockdown, of course, but what's the solution? We can't just decide to stop the lockdowns (which are barely lockdowns relative to what happens in places like NS) because it gives the virus a chance to spread even more, and our numbers are still pretty high. If they want to stop the lockdowns (and masks and vaccinations - I'm so confused!), then they need a different solution to slow the spread of a deadly virus. Or perhaps they need to watch some videos of people actually suffering and dying from Covid until they believe it's all real and could happen to them. I'm all about rights and freedom, but not the freedom to increase the risk of harm to others. That just doesn't make sense in a civil society. 

One fight they could take on, though, is demanding to be paid to stay home from work through some type of CERB or - gasp - UBI. For many taking to the streets yesterday, it might be less about government control and more about struggling to pay rent. But then that's what all the signs should say. And then I'd totally get behind them! Lots of people need help to weather this difficult time, and that help should be secure, not in bits and pieces. 

I said something similar about protesting almost a decade ago to students striking against teacher strikes. You can't just rally around 'everyone stop fighting so we can play sports'; you either have to argue that teachers have to follow provincial rules OR that the province has to negotiate fairly. Telling both parties of a disagreement to just ignore the problem isn't a viable solution. 

And here's an unpopular opinion: I also stand on this point with hybrid learning. Tons of teachers are protesting the potential move to hybrid for September, where a teacher teaches half the class in the room and half at home. I also hate hybrid teaching, but we need to clarify an alternative or we could end up with something worse to keep contacts low, like teaching one subject at a time, for five straight weeks, with 30 kids in the class. But I've been yelled down on this one, and it looks like many boards have agreed NOT to use the hybrid system. So the protesting worked, but now who knows what we'll have instead. I predict 30 kids in each class, no tests available beyond a questionnaire about symptoms, and kids will take off them masks at one for lunch in the building, relying far too much on the vaccinations to keep us safe.  

I won't say anything about people being allowed to march in the streets without any police stopping them despite the province's 'soft lockdown', though, because I was pretty pleased at the number marching in solidarity for Palestine. The virus pales in comparison with the intentional bombing of children. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Michael Mann's New Climate War

It's not all that new. There are tons of books on this topic now, so it would be hard to find a completely new angle. But the public still needs to learn the basics, and Mann does a good enough job of explaining it all in a very conversational writing style that's approachable for casual readers of science. His big argument, however, is with most of those other books and anyone who errs on the side of worst case predictions of the future because the doomers might provoke us to give up the fight, and this war has just barely started. 

I still know some people who think e-cars are evil because they use cobalt, and fast fashion is the main cause of climate change and are against any carbon tax because it will harm poor people (despite my explanation of the rebate system). They're convinced that vegetarianism is more important than decreasing fossil fuels use, but also that persuading others towards vegetarianism is elitist and privileged because it's cheaper to eat beef, despite my attempts to show them, with grocery store prices, that it's cheaper to buy bulk beans and lentils and cook from scratch; it's only more expensive if you buy 'near-meat' products. Although it takes more time than going through a drive-through, it doesn't have to if you cook a pot full of rice and lentils once/week. I used to live well below the poverty line, and dried beans kept me and my kids afloat. But somehow beef is the road to equity?? 

When I ask for sources, it's all Tiktok videos, so that's where climate scientists and activists have to head next! It's clearly still necessary to explain all this over and over in short soundbites with intense visuals that people will take away with them and share endlessly. These types of books need to be promoted by influencers

Mann has written a different type of climate change book in that it feels sort of personal, and he names lots of names of individuals, corporations, and countries. He seems a little snarky at times, which can be fun, but it's definitely different that the usual dry facts and data. He comes down hard on some of the people and ideas I've supported in the past, which has given me pause, but I don't fully support his take-downs. He wants to mend the rift between various factions of environmental movements, but he's doing so by arguing that they're all wrong. That might not be the best way to build bridges.

The gist: denial isn't the biggest problem anymore; now it's "other breeds of deceivers and dissemblers, namely downpayers, deflectors, dividers, delayers, and doomers" (45). We have to do both individual actions and corporate /political actions, and ignore any fight about which is better or faster. We have to do ALL THE THINGS! (I argued the same last year.) "At the center of the acrimonious debate over individual action versus systemic change is a false dilemma. Both are important and necessary" (68). 

"The solution is already here. We just need to deploy it rapidly and at a massive scale. It all comes down to political will and economic incentives. . . . A renewable energy transition would create millions of new jobs, stabilize energy prices in the absence of fuel costs, reduce power disruption, and increase access to energy by decentralizing power generation" (143-4). 

Monday, May 10, 2021

Safe Schools in September - Second Try

Last September, despite all the science to the contrary, school boards opened schools with "mask breaks" built in to the mornings rather than have a shorter day and let the kids go home for lunch. I left my windows open an inch, and kids complained about the cold. And then I discovered how difficult it is to teach hybrid style, with my attention split between kids in the room and kids at home and with other classes using the hallways to practice skits outside my open door, and while tethered to my laptop by my mic cord so the kids can hear me through my triple-ply mask, I could barely manage a complete thought.

So I started calling in sick. A supply teacher quietly read a book all day as I managed the class from home, where I could teach everyone at once from a warm, quiet room without any PPE blocking the sound of my voice. The marking load was insane in the quadmester system that compressed each class to 22 days,  especially with four senior courses in a row without a prep built in to the schedule. The big changes coming in the fall include having semesters again and full days. It sounds suspiciously like business as usual except with two classes per day and half of each class learning from home. I can't even picture what that will look like! Will some kids come for half the day? Will the kids there all day be eating in our classrooms? How will two classes/day but cut in half stop the spread?? When will the other two classes run: alternating days or weeks??

But now on top of what some scientific journals have argued for over a year, the CDC and WHO have made it very clear that Covid-19 is spread through aerosol transmission, which means distancing, hand sanitizer, desk-washing, and daily symptom quizzes are far less important, and masks, ventilation, eating outdoors, and testing are everything

Monday, April 12, 2021

Michael Sandel's Tyranny of Merit: What's Become of the Common Good?

This excellent read, The Tyranny of Merit, by Harvard philosophy professor Michael Sandel, actually shifted some of my thinking, and I love a good lightbulb moment provoked by a book! I found the book sometimes a little outside my reach in places enough to need to read a few chapters numerous times, but I think I've got the gist of it all.  

In a nutshell, some of us hope that judging people based on their merit makes for a more fair and just system, and the education system can be used as a sorting machine. The promotion of merit and of the sorting tools we use to determine who deserves to rise to the top are seen as part of an open system of global thinking. Rejecting that position, then, it is believed, is clearly aligned with closed-minded thinking, BUT this is all a ruse brought to you by neoliberal politics. It's born of the illusion that we can create a level playing field of equal opportunity, which is a commonly touted argument. Less common, however, is Sandel's captivating argument around what it means to deserve anything and his claim that, even if we could have perfect equality of opportunity, a meritocracy brings with it some nasty side effects: "It would generate hubris and anxiety among the winners and humiliation and resentment among the losers--attitudes at odds with human flourishing and corrosive to the common good" (120). He ends with some plausible but difficult alternatives to our current way of thinking--in education, work, and through contributive justice--which require an entire overhaul of thinking reminiscent of Charles Taylor's notion of social imaginaries: we have to change our beliefs before we'll ever be able to change our behaviours.


We can't get a fully realized meritocracy. The term was first coined just in 1958 in a dystopian novel; it wasn't originally meant to be seen as a solution or a term of praise. Then in the 80s, Reagan created the belief that "market mechanisms are the primary instruments for achieving the public good" (21) and deregulated banks and businesses under the belief that, "Provided they operate within a fair system of equal opportunity, markets give people what they deserve" (62). Since, in theory, everyone can compete equally (the rhetoric of rising), government helped out by lowering taxes to remove barriers to success, which then provoked a dramatic rise in tuition fees. We tolerate inequalities because of the American Dream that suggests we can't win without some losers beneath us: Everything we do is fair and just provided people worthy have equal opportunities to access higher education; however, governing elites have the "responsibility for creating the conditions that have eroded the dignity of work and left many feeing disrespected and disempowered. . . . upheavals we are witnessing are a political response to a political failure of historic proportions" (19). We're starting to see the light. 

Monday, April 5, 2021

Interview with the Guelph Back-Grounder: On Teaching Critical Thinking

In early February, just before immersing myself into the current quad of online teaching, a friend of a friend interviewed me for a local independent journal. I thought it would be all about teaching during a pandemic, but together we meandering through a diverse chain of topics for about 90 minutes, which he cut into parts and posted in 5 segments, so far. I'm not sure if there are more. 

I haven't gone back to listen to any of the clips and won't have a chance soon (because I'm nearing the most hectic ending of this insane quad), but there were definitely times during that lengthy conversation that I felt like I completely contradicted something I had said 30 minutes earlier, so that's entirely a possibility! And, of course, other times that I forgot the names of things. I'm hoping I just remember more of the flubs than any potential nuggets of gold! 

Here are the five nine parts:

1. Can People be Taught to Think Critically?

2. Gullibility and the Velocity of Communications

3. Dialectics vs Debate and Ethical Reasoning

4. Conservative vs Liberal Bias

5. Competition in Schools

6. Groupwork Dynamics

7. Developing Community in the Digital Age 

8. Community Pushback

9. Sortition

Thanks to the Cloudwalking Owl for such a delightful chat! It's always nice to talk with someone when you each recognize otherwise obscure references being made. 

Saturday, April 3, 2021

World Autism Day

I've come up for air from this crazy year of teaching for World Autism Day - and I'm a day late. Many autistic people find April an awkward time because much of the messaging around autism comes from non-autistics. Miss Luna Rose made this great graphic to illustrate some of the concerns with the Autism Speaks organization's campaign to have everyone in blue for the month:

The #REDinstead goes back to 2015 with Alanna Rose Whitney's #WalkInRed alternative. It was Judy Singer who coined the term "neurodiversity" as well as creating the infinity loop way back in her sociology thesis paper in 1996. These are preferred by the autistic community, and that's what should matter.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Stop the Lucrative Cruelty in Yemen

There was an online rally with some impressive speeches about the war on Yemen today, what Yanis Varoufakis referred as a form of "lucrative cruelty." Here's the full video, and below are some of the words I found most impactful.

Biden was front and center when the US got involved in 2015 as the US war machine aided a unilateral attack on Yemen led by Saudi Arabia and UAE with American military support. Trump made it all much worse, but Biden is back with promises to stop it. (A good run-down of the beginning is here by Al-Adeimi.) "Biden needs to stop the logistical, intelligence, and military support to Saudis and lift the blockade so food and medical services can enter Yemen" (Ro Khanna). 

A third of bombing missions strike hit non-military targets, and 9.5 million children have no access to water, food, or basic sanitation (Finucane).

Ahmed Al-Babati, a soldier who was arrested for protesting the war, said we "must sacrifice our comfort for others' survival."

Cornel West gave an impassioned speech linking the police murders in the US with Wall Street crime and the Pentagon militarism. "It doesn't matter the color or gender of the President or Vice President. The poor, the workers, the hungry, must be the center of their focus."

Esa Mighty followed that with some spoken word that is worth hearing at 27 minutes in. 

Daniele Obono: "It's complicated, but not inevitable. These are the fruits of political choices. Don't complicate what is simple. 250,000 are dead. 80% are living in poverty. Two-thirds depend on aid."

Shireen Al-Adeimi: "In Canada, we need to stop arms manufacturing in London, Ontario [GM Defense]. In the U.S., Biden must lift the blockades. Every ten minutes a child under five is starved to death."

Jeremy Corbyn ended it: "$90 billion of arms have been sold to Saudi Arabia, and even more to neighbouring countries. We must act to stop the supply. In the U.S. Senate, Sanders helped passed the War Powers Resolution. In Britain, the government refused to act, but a lawsuit suspended sales temporarily. But the War Powers Act is not enough. It means that parliament can decide IF we go to war. Profits are being made from the killing of children. . . . We need a global movement with the confidence of a vision of a world without conflict. The U.S. can afford anything except levels of inequality that exist. . . . No child's life should be ended by bombs raining down on them from worldwide companies."

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Freedom at Any Cost

I believe it's not a coincidence that the UK, US, and much of Canada - the trio that promoted neoliberal free market politics - are not doing enough to restrict the spread of Covid. The rightwing in our countries (and some centre and left players) still act on the dogmatic ideology of freedom at ANY cost, so they're loathe to restrict hours of business. And God forbid they affect profits.

Reading George Monbiot's Guardian article today has strong parallels with a review of Timothy Snyder's latest book, Our Malady, about American healthcare system. And they could both be talking about Ford's treatment of Ontario.

Monbiot on Johnson:

"Here's the chilling, remarkable thing that should be inscribed on everyone's minds: there is no plan. . . . A government with any level of competence would have explained from the outset where we need to be before it lifts this lockdown. It might have stated what the R number should be. . . . It would have committed not to end the lockdown until such conditions have been met. . . . Without a plan, we are likely to remain trapped in a perpetual cycle of emergency followed by suppression. . . . From the outset, the government has tried to persuade us that there's a trade-off between protecting public health and protecting our social and economic lives. But there is no trade-off. . . . Every week brings a new scandal, as the government shows a generosity towards profit-seeking corporations that's not extended to the rest of the population. . . . But if you get the system right, you free the nation from both uncontrolled disease and lockdowns. This is the lesson from Taiwan. . . . The government could have used the first two lockdowns and the school holidays to carry out an emergency refurbishment programme in schools, fitting them with ventilation . . . Astonishingly, it did nothing."

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Painting for Community

 I did these fun little puzzle pieces as part of a local community initiative, "Belonging Together," with the aim of an ever-expanding mural from people across the region. I based all mine on photos from my neighbourhood. It's likely the last creative thing I'll do for fun before diving into online teaching. 

Gertz's Nihilism

A year after coming out with Nihilism and Technology, Dr. Nolen Gertz wrote just plain Nihilism, an "examination of the meaning of meaninglessness: why it matters that nothing matters." It's a really short book, but it took a while to wade through it all. Here it all is even more briefly assembled with my own understanding here and there.

We typically think of nihilism as very simply meaning, "we believe in nothing" (4), but he counters that from the start with the polar opposite definition of Russian nihilism via Wendell Phillips in 1881: "the righteous and honorable resistance of a people crushed under an iron rule . . . the last weapon of victims choked and manacled beyond all other resistance" (2),  and then takes us through Western philosophy to get to a view that, "Nihilism is about evading reality rather than confronting it, about believing in other worlds rather than accepting this one, and about trying to make ourselves feel powerful rather than admitting our own weaknesses" (73).


I didn't love this epistemology section, but the book picks up speed afterwards. 

First, on Socrates, Descartes, and Hume and nihilism via our inability to know stuff: Anti-nihilists "inspire others to question and ultimately reject the foundations of their beliefs" (21). Socrates (a social reformer) provoked people to question everything. Then Descartes (a self-reformer) warned that can lead to "inextricable darkness" (21). "For Descartes we embrace illusions because our reach exceeds our grasp, because our desire to know (the will) exceeds our power to know (the intellect)" (22). Then he gets to Hume's fork: For Hume, we can only know things we experience directly and things that are true by definition, and, Hume famously said, all else must be committed to the flames, so  "supporting an idea may not be so different from supporting a sports team" (25). Gertz's conclusion so far: "From a Socratic perspective, nihilism can be overcome by enlightenment. From a Cartesian perspective, nihilism can be overcome by self-restraint. But from a Humean perspective, nihilism cannot be overcome. It is simply a product of human psychology" (28).