Sunday, August 28, 2022

On Divisiveness

This post is so short! 

As I wrote about anti-anti-racism education (and that two 'anti's don't necessarily make a 'pro') yesterday, a connection became crystal clear to me. It's often the same people who are, to various extents....

It's curious to me how often those views seem to coincide. I noticed the anti-sex education stance fitting in there from a request for my opinion on a dubious list of items including "Should education get back to reading and math and stop talking about personal issues?" and "Should parents have the right to decide what's taught in classes?" 

This is a position that hopes to care for kids by not educating them. It hopes teachers won't tell kids about anything perceived as bad or dangerous. Ignorance is bliss, and we all want our children to be happy, right?  

Saturday, August 27, 2022

A Really Deep Dive into Anti-CRT Rhetoric

This will be a long one, but I'll break it into headings (after this preamble) for easier bit-at-a-time reading!

There's a division among school board trustees and some parents around the best way to tackle discrimination to ensure the best outcome for students and society. The board currently has been providing anti-racism education to staff, and many teachers discuss discrimination in various ways in their classrooms, but now we're seeing some backlash against these policies. It's happening in other boards as well, and it's starting to feel like an organized movement. Taking the most charitable view possible of the backlash, which is at various times part of the "FAIR" movement, anti-CRT (critical race theory), anti-anti-racism, and/or anti-2SLGBTQ+ books in the library, those opposing anti-racism education might be well-meaning and don't necessarily harbour racist or homophobic/transphobic views at all, but they have a different solution to discrimination than is currently outlined by the board. Remember that's the most charitable perception of this perspective. From what I've seen so far, however, their solution hasn't been overtly described, so I've been left to piece together that they're hoping to end discrimination by no longer discussing it. That summation might be in error, so I'm open to hearing a more comprehensive plan of action. 

If it is an accurate summary of their stance, then here are the two positions we're exploring in our goal to reduce discrimination and dismantle roadblocks for marginalized groups:

  1. Anti-Racism Education: Educate teachers on implicit bias to ensure fair treatment of students and assessments in the classroom, and educate students on implicit bias as well as systemic discrimination and intersectionality to help them understand how some people are able to get further in their field with less effort and mitigate those embedded structural components. 
  2. FAIR: Stop discussing CRT, privilege, intersectionality or discrimination in order to help all students feel equal. 
As a teacher and parent, instead of telling people what not to do, I've found it's generally more effective to tell them what to do. For instance, instead of "don't stand on the chair," we tell kids: "feet on the floor." It saves a whole host of misunderstandings and corrections. From an amalgamation of sources including board meetings here and elsewhere, I've heard that we shouldn't discuss CRT or offer diversity training or use present day discrimination to make up for past discrimination. It's not entirely clear to me what the concerns are, though, or what we should be doing to foster a fair and inclusive classroom experience for all students beside just not discussing any problems. 

If my understanding of their solution is accurate, that we shouldn't discuss racism in the classroom or allow access to books about trans experiences or same sex unions in our schools, then that makes about as much sense to me as hoping to decrease pregnancy rates by not talking to kids about sex -- or, a more current example, as much sense as hoping to end Covid transmission by claiming it's over and removing all protective measures. Some anti-CRT delegates have attempted to show evidence that our current practices don't work, but I've seen no research suggesting that just ignoring it all has a remotely positive effect. To change paths we'd need to see that talking to kids about these issues, also known as educating them, is detrimental, and that staying silent is beneficial. 

My concern is that pretending that racism and homophobia and transphobia and same sex marriages, and trans experiences don't exist, a lack of education on these issues, will increase discrimination over time from creating a fear of the unknown and just plain ignorance. The idea that prejudices are alleviated through knowledge has been with us for decades if not centuries, so this recent challenge to that understanding has provoked eye-rolling and exasperation instead of a thorough exploration. On top of that, CRT on its own is a bit of an American far right dogwhistle, which is what, I believe, led the board to avoid the topic, understandably, instead of doing a deep dive.

But let's actually take a look! (That was just the preamble!)

Friday, August 19, 2022

Privatization in Ontario

 It's vital in Ontario that we understand the problems with privatization because the shift of essential services from the public to private sphere is happening right under our noses. Brittlestar does a great job of explaining it here: 

The typical disaster capital scheme goes something like this: 

  1. Wait for a crisis (or create one). Then people will be busy struggling to manage and won't have the resources to protest the government or, in all the chaos, will be otherwise willing to allow new sweeping changes to take place without a thorough democratic process. This Covid situation just fell into the laps of the uber-right-wing.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

On Finding Answers in Research

I recently posted, on social media, a list of studies showing the effectiveness of masks and of mandates. One commenter said he doesn't trust studies because they could be biased, and instead he has used raw data to come to his own conclusions. 

A few problems here:

  • If a group of scholars in a field work together to analyze data until they reach a consensus, and then the paper undergoes a peer review process in which no less than three impartial and anonymous reviewers scrutinize the methodology and then further analyze the gathered data to ensure they come to the same conclusions, if all that can be warped by bias to the point that all these studies coming to the same conclusion are flawed, then what makes it likely that Joe Blow, basement data collector, has no bias in his data analysis?
  • Part of the problem is that Joe thinks he can consciously recognize and avoid bias, as if it's something within our awareness, as if all researchers and their anonymous reviewers are biased consciously due to their some benefit they hope to get from nefariously leading the data to match their hoped for conclusions. But often bias is covert, which is why the scientific method has so many rules and systems to undermine any possible subconscious confirmation bias, like double-blind studies. Can Joe be sure that he harbours no unconscious biases??

A Useful Crisis

I'm a big movie buff, and I used to love watching meaty psychological thrillers and films with evil people murdering one another. No Country for Old Men is one of my favourites. Or deep absurdity, like Synecdoche, New York. But I find I can't watch that anymore. With the exception of Better Call Saul (because Kim Wexler is one of the most fascinatingly complex female characters written for a series), I've developed an aversion to the cruelty and mayhem of films I used to love. It appears I've become too sensitive! I blame the current socio-political climate making our lives full of death and chaos. I'm limited to comedies and cartoons. 

But even there, I can't escape our current situation. Last night's viewing was The Lion King, and this bit, when Nala confronts Simba, wouldn't allow me a brief respite from the current turmoil caused by Ford's privatization shenanigans:

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

What Happened to Politics?

I want to save this thread by Jeff Rybak, defence lawyer, lecturer at the University of Toronto, and a not-for-profit corporate director: 

"I'm trying to understand what's happening with politics in Canada, especially on the right. I read a lot of comments, though I obviously don't have time to pick fights with all of them. Still, I have to say, I'm discouraged. We're seeing the worst in people lately. 

I'm seeing freedom defined as never having to do what you're told - even if that's just not to make life worse for other people. Forget about legal and illegal for a moment. We're just talking about human decency here. Apparently we're only free when that's optional.

Strap One On For Safety!

I wrote about the almost total absence of PSAs around using masks to prevent transmission of a virus that, in some areas, kills ten times as often as traffic collisions, and then look at the possible reasons we're being pressured to ditch this simple and effective tool: On Mandates: Mitigating Over Minimizing. I wrote it a week ago, before the new CDC guideline change that throw us all under the bus (see Eric Topol's takedown of it here), and then I spent a week in the woods to emerge, of course, too late to fix a glaring error -- an extra word bungling up a sentence. It happens. 

Here it is:

A mandate isn’t necessarily tyrannical. It’s a rule that, in any good government, is devised to protect the people from harm so we can better live and work together. We must monitor legislation to ensure we stop laws that can harm people, but we also need to get involved when harm comes from a lack of legislation. A good mandate is put in place when harm can be prevented in an enforceable way. For instance, despite the fact that skin cancer costs many lives each year, and suntan lotion can prevent these deaths, using suntan lotion isn’t mandated. It would be nearly impossible to enforce its use. Seatbelts, on the other hand, have been mandated for decades. In the states, traffic collisions take about six times as many lives as skin cancer*, so seatbelts potentially save more lives than sun lotion. They’re also much more easily noticeable and enforceable. 

I was just 11 years old, when I was first forced by my mum to strap myself to a car with a 2″ vinyl band with metal clips that held me tight against the seat. It felt like wearing a straight jacket, and I protested the infringement on my freedom. I wasn’t the only one; in many places “resistance was the norm” to seatbelt laws. Mum was avoiding fines of $240 from our Conservative Premier Bill Davis (about $1,200 now), and she was further cajoled by ads on TV showing the aftermath of people thrown from a car. Children weren’t kept from these gruesome images, sometimes shown at school assemblies. Such was the level of care we could expect back in the 1970s. 

Monday, August 8, 2022

Covid-Free Schools are Possible!

A school in Texas has been 100% Covid-free with zero learning loss. They used good masks indoors (N95 or better) with no 'mask breaks.' Everyone eats outdoors even in the hottest weather. Every room has a HEPA or Corsi-Rosenthal box filter and a CO2 monitor to track air quality. At 650ppm, windows open even in the worst weather. At 800ppm, students vacate the room. 

It helps significantly that they acknowledge that, "There is no such thing as a harmless single case of Covid" because of the potential for long-term effects on kids, for seeding a super-spreader event, and/or for hosting a mutation. 

Thursday, August 4, 2022

On Anti-Racist Education Provoking Bullying of White Kids

Addressing a local concern about bullying:

I'm very sorry to hear about any child's bullying experience in school. Bullying of any kind has no place in our schools, but we've seen that it can be so difficult to eradicate. Kids will jump on any little thing in order to try out their power over others, and that has to be nipped in the bud by school staff or, perhaps even better, from other students who recognize the problem. I experienced bullying myself back in the 60s just because my last name was similar to a popular cartoon villain. When I surveyed grade 12 students on their experiences with bullying each year, almost everyone reports having been bullied in grade school in some way. We have to keep working harder at teaching students what playful teasing of a good friend looks like compared to mean teasing, and we need to implement mediation techniques to work through any harassment or worse treatment beyond just "shake hands and make up" strategies that have shown to be ineffective. 

On Showing My Cards

 I'm showing them!! People keep telling me not to let people know what I stand for until after the election, and that doesn't sit well with me. Others have told me to choose my words more carefully and avoid words like "equity" or "inclusion" because it will turn people off. It's the one type of advice I've gotten across the board, from everyone who is trying to help me, yet I'm ignoring it. 

I get it. I get that it's all a popularity contest and you don't want to say that one thing that gets people to avoid your name on the ballot. But I hate that so much. I hate hearing the word salad of some politicians who get very good at skirting around questions and/or refocusing on saving you money or attacking other parties, and then they win, and we're all horrified. I guess the reality is that I hate that underhandedness more than I love the ideas of serving my community as a trustee. Maybe that's selfish of me - risking a negative outcome in schools because I failed to get a seat at the table for following my ideals, but it's worth it if it works. And then maybe it can catch on!! 

I'm not naive, but I'm going to be fully honest and upfront anyway - a less offensive Bulworth perhaps. So I'm going to think of this as running an experiment. My hypothesis: It is possible to win an election while presenting all views and ideas clearly and openly and answering questions as honestly as possible. 

We'll find out!