Alan November

Posted: March 29, 2018 in Education, Humanity

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*Pictured above is Alan November*

Mr. Alan November is a former teacher and now a keynote speaker on education and online literacy. I had the pleasure of listening to him speak a few nights ago at a school in Toronto.

He began his talk by asking us if we thought we knew how to use Google. Of course, the majority of us nodded our heads – I mean, who doesn’t? It’s a search engine and it’s pretty simple…type in what you want to know. So, he challenged us. We had to find out about “Vacanti’s mouse” (the mouse with an ear seemingly growing out of its back). The BBC reported on this mouse claiming the ear was grown. Published in 2002, the BBC reported this: “The scientist who grew a human ear on the back of a mouse has suggested…”. However, if we go to good ol’ Wikipedia, they state: “…biodegradable ear shaped mould and then implanted under the skin of a mouse.” Hmm. The BBC reported it was “grown” while Wikipedia states it was “implanted.” Surely the BBC is more reliable than Wikipedia…(and don’t call me Shirley). As it turns out, if we wanted the truth (in this case), we needed to find the source document. However, very few of us knew how to find it (my wife did, but as I’ve mentioned in many of my posts, she’s much smarter than I am).

Well, Google is simply an algorithm. They aren’t interested in finding you the most accurate information, they simply try to help you find the information that best relates to what you’re searching for (more on this in a moment). So, let’s get back to Vacanti’s mouse. With Google, you need to learn how to enter in the correct code to find the most accurate information (there are many codes and it takes practice to learn them). So, by entering: ‘vacanti ear mouse site:edu harvard’, Google can find the primary source and make the results more accurate. Result? The ear was implanted…not grown. Wikipedia was right. The BBC was wrong. These site codes are crucial in finding articles that are unbiased or even helpful in showing students the CRAZY AMOUNTS of bias. For example, a news story as reported in Canada may be drastically different than how it’s reported in the United Kingdom. So, “site:uk” is a quick code that can search for news items in the United Kingdom only. Want to know what Japan thinks of our PM Justin Trudeau? Easily type in his name with ‘site:jp’. Need academic articles from the United Kingdom? You can add in the code ‘ac’.  For example, ‘breast cancer research site:ac.uk’.

Okay, so as I mentioned, Google is interested in finding results that match what you’re looking for and not necessarily what is accurate/truthful. Here’s the example Alan November used to demonstrate this: He told us to Google search whether cats are better than dogs and then to search whether dogs are better than cats. Interestingly enough, if you search whether cats are better than dogs, it will lead you to websites that intend to give their opinion that cats are better than dogs and vice versa. So, based on what you typed in, you get relatable information and not necessarily accurate information. In a world of fake news, all of the aforementioned information becomes that much more important and the tools become that much more necessary. Moreover, if you really want to know whether cats or dogs are better, you can type in: ‘dogs versus cats’ into a website called Wolfram Alpha (wolframalpha.com) and it will calculate the hard stats for you within a few seconds. Yes, calculate it for you, not simply provide you with some chart that has already been created or some scientific report that’s been released. Try it.

Anyway, the majority of the audience realized that we didn’t really know how to use Google at all. So, it seemingly became our responsibility to teach this skill to our students. So the question was asked: When do we teach this Google skill? November’s response: When do you teach kids to read?

 

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Teachers and Guns

Posted: March 26, 2018 in Education, Humanity

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*I took the picture above from a “kveller” article written by Emily Burack*

FINALLY someone is linking my profession with gun ownership! Why teaching isn’t already synonymous with gun ownership I’ll never know. But at least it’s now a topic of debate… *rolling eye emoji*

So, for those who don’t already know, U.S President, Donald Trump, posted this statement on his Twitter account: “Armed Educators (and trusted people who work within a school) love our students and will protect them…Shootings will not happen again…” This post, of course, came after the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (Parkland, Florida). The post from Trump seems to propose the idea of arming teachers with guns as a way to deter assailants.

Two thoughts immediately came to mind:
1) President Trump wants MORE guns to ward off possible attacks from assailants with guns.
2) President Trump is advocating for guns in the classroom.

Now, by the time I started writing this post and by the time I finally got around to finishing it and posting it, there has been one more school shooting in America (Maryland) and a teacher who shot a student by accident. What the hell is wrong with America?!? The senseless violence and a government that is doing very little to stop the senseless violence has spurned the #armmewith hashtag (where teachers advocate for anything and everything BUT guns) and the “March for our Lives” movement.

I’m not advocating for the banning of all guns in the United States. Doing so will unfairly penalize the responsible gun owners who participate for sport. I suppose I’m wondering, as a Canadian, how difficult/challenging the process is to re-visit the United States’ second amendment, which states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This means that it is an American citizen’s RIGHT to own these “arms” (the definition seems to be a bit hazy on that), and not a privilege. How could this young man (Nikolas Cruz) acquire an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle (legally or illegally) and shoot and kill 17 people while wounding over 15 more. How?

It was on Tuesday, March 13, 2018 when a teacher in California accidentally fired their gun in the classroom. The teacher shot the ceiling by accident and a gun fragment injured a student. You wanna know what’s really funny? The boy’s father said that he actually supported Trump in his claims to have guns in the classroom, but after his son was injured, he was quoted as saying: “After today, I get why people say there should be no guns in schools.” (CNN, Nicole Chavez, March 15, 2018). Umm, okay. So, let me get this straight, your son had to get accidentally shot for you to see why there shouldn’t be guns in schools? Okay, great. Father of the year, I guess.

The “March for our Lives” movement had a massive (and successful) rally on March 24 (2018) in Washington DC. They made their voices heard hoping for: 1. a ban on assault weapons, 2. stopping the sale of high-capacity magazines, and 3. requiring background checks on guns bought at gun shows and online. Where was Donald Trump? Golfing in Palm Beach, Florida.

How does former U.S Senator Rick Santorum feel about the rally? He stated: “How about kids instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes or trying to deal with situations that when there is a violent shooter, that you can actually respond to that.” (As aired during his minutes on CNN’s State of the Union show). What an absolute idiot! Basically, his point is that since school shootings are so common, students should prepare to give a fallen classmate CPR rather than complaining about gun laws…

It’s incredible that the U.S is still standing.

 

 

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*A painting by Mr. John William Waterhouse entitled Hylas and the Nymphs (1896)*

The Manchester Art Gallery recently removed the above painting from its walls, as well as any postcard prints sitting in its gift shop. It was removed on Friday, January 26 (2018) not with the intent to censor, but with the intent to spark debate. In light of the #metoo and #timesup movements, the painting was removed to help support the idea that women are more than just a “passive decorative art form” (according to Clare Gannaway – the gallery’s curator of contemporary art). As reported by The Guardian in their January 31 (2018) issue, “The response [to the painting being removed] so far has been mixed. Some have said it sets a dangerous precedent, while others have called it ‘po-faced’ [humourless] and ‘politically correct.'” Though Gannaway believes the painting will return one day, she hopes it will return in a different context.

John Waterhouse is known as being a pre-Raphaelite artist. Under this umbrella, the paintings aim to tackle themes like societal issues, religion, love, and literature. In Waterhouse’s “controversial” painting above, Hylas (servant to Heracles in Greek mythology) is tempted by the nymphs and is never again found. To Gannaway’s point, her worry was that the painting depicted women as some sort of femme fatale (seductive woman with the intent to cause harm/distress to a man). I suppose her point is that, yes, beauty is power, but that women have other talents too. Of course they do, but the fact that beauty is power not only supports The Halo Effect, but also supports the study conducted by Dion, Berscheid, and Walster in 1972 – the results showed that more positive personality traits were linked to beauty.

Alison Smith blogged about why the pre-Raphaelites were so shocking in her August 30 (2012) post stating that “a lot of the themes they chose to depict were quite daring for the time – including problematic subjects such as poverty, emigration, prostitution, and the double standard of sexual morality in society.” She then references William Hunt’s piece entitled The Awakening Conscience (1853), which depicts a mistress and her impending salvation. Smith does also state that the pre-Raphaelites were not just shocking because of what they painted, but also how they painted it.

So, what’s the point? Well, our own Prime Minister has done away with the term “mankind” and has replaced it with the much more accurate (heavy sarcasm) “peoplekind”. So, there is a massive shift happening wherever the cultural winds are blowing. I’m not saying that movements like #metoo and #timesup aren’t important (because they certainly are), but the removal of “semi-pornographic art” and then articles popping up that read: “If You’re a Woman and Bad At Math, Blame the Patriarchy” seem to perpetuate the idea that if you’re a man, you’re the enemy, and certainly you’re part of the problem. I wonder if this removal of Waterhouse’s painting is an example of feminist moralizing and that if I don’t support Gannaway’s decision to remove it, then I must be insensitive and metaphorically turning my back to the cultural wind. So, is art free from discrimination? Which pieces of art should and should not be held up to a moral standard? Is this just another example to prove that Orwell’s 1984 is not some piece of dystopian fiction, but an imminent reality?

A colleague of mine recently informed me that Waterhouse’s painting has been put back up. Again, it was stressed that it was never removed due to censorship, but to spark debate…but then why do away with the postcards too? If anything, the quick refastening of the painting shows that the cultural winds simply weren’t gusty enough to warrant keeping the painting down and standing behind their decision to remove it in the first place… *sigh*

Apparently “peoplekind” was just a “dumb joke”, according to Trudeau. He claimed he doesn’t “necessarily have the best track record on jokes.” (The Guardian, Feb 7, 2018)

Hello again, Mr. Waterhouse.

Practical Skills

Posted: January 12, 2018 in Education

I was driving my wife’s SUV the other day and the warning came on to charge her battery. I knew I had a battery charger in the basement that was still in the box and had been collecting dust for years. All I had to do was find it, connect it, and let it charge. I found the charger, popped the hood, connected the positive end, and then paused. Within minutes I had my dad on the phone. “Soooo, where does the black end connect to?” I love my dad. He never mocked me once (not over the phone anyway). After about ten minutes of conversation (I had to find a part of the engine that was metal, which proved to be difficult) and sending him pics of various parts of the engine I could possibly connect it to, I finally got it.  I’m pretty embarrassed (as I should be), but also, I realized I clearly wasn’t taught this at any point during my education. It led me to think what else I hadn’t learned and what my students were also not learning.

You can Google almost anything these days, but I was thinking about what practical skills I missed out on and what my students may also be missing out on. I came up with a short list:

  1. As mentioned in my embarrassing story – how to charge a battery or boost a car: A long time ago a buddy also showed me how to jump start my standard car without cables…I don’t remember how to do that, but it was really cool when he did it.
  2. Wilderness skills: I’d last about an hour. However, I’m proud to say that I know how to start a fire…as long as I have matches or a lighter 🙂 I should also mention that a colleague of mine recently booked a trip with his students to the local provincial park where he showed them how to start a fire, cook their own food, and set up a tent.
  3. How to prepare a decent meal: I mean, I can follow a recipe okay, but my knowledge of food preparation does not extend much past that. I probably make the best KD (Kraft Dinner) though. Seriously. I probably do. Like, seriously.
  4. How to complete a tax return: Yep. I pay someone to do that for me. I don’t need CRA on my back because I forgot a comma…
  5. Knowing the tricks of the trade: What I mean is, I’m not too sure what a good deal is, typically. If something is “on sale”, I just assume it’s a good price, which isn’t always the case. My wife, however, is amazing. So at the grocery store, she price matches and coupons like a boss. The same goes for buying a car (for example). I have no idea when I’m being swindled and sweet-talked. So, again, I call in my wife to help me.
  6. Proper etiquette: For this life skill I am actually pretty competent, but I listed it because it’s never really taught and is severely lacking with today’s youth. For example: Giving up a seat on public transit for a parent with a stroller, a woman, or someone elderly.
  7. Time Management: Again, I am good at organizing my time. Most students, however, are not. It’s a tough skill to teach. This could be a lack of understanding how to prioritize items or simple procrastination or the uncertainly of how to finish tasks well, yet efficiently.
  8. How to fail: In some professions this f-word may be replaced with a more positive phrase like “learn to succeed”. This generation of Millennials are coddled. Too often do we try to remove their road blocks, stop them from falling, and instil them with the “everyone’s a winner” attitude. Students need to be shown how to be resilient and pick themselves up after they’ve fallen. Moreover, that not only is it okay to fail, but it’s normal and it’s an opportunity for growth.

Anxiety and Stress

Posted: January 10, 2018 in Uncategorized

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Recently, my wife and I were chatting with some friends over sushi about the rise in student stress and mental health issues in general. “Do you notice,” a friend asked, “that kids seem to be stressed out these days? What do you make of that? Like, are you seeing that in your classes?”

I’ll begin by saying that stress and accompanying anxiety are real. Other mental health issues are also real. I believe I can safely say that teachers try to walk that line between “suck it up” and sensitivity. Example: A student says they can’t write my test because they are experiencing stress or anxiety. What do I do as a teacher? Do I tell them, “You’re right. Tests are stressful. Good luck!” or do I tell them, “I’m sorry that you are feeling that way. Write it when you are feeling better.” Life is filled with stressful situations, so at what point is the stress too overwhelming and when do students need to simply “deal with it”?

I mean, is the student in the above example trying to get out of my test or are they really struggling? My suggestion is to engage in a conversation about how they’re feeling. A simple, “Tell me what you are most anxious about when it comes to the test” can uncover a quick “I didn’t study” to more complex and deeper explanation as to what is really going on.

But why now? In other words, why are stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues such big issues all of a sudden? I’m not THAT much older than my students and I don’t remember this ever being discussed when I was their age. Does life suck all of a sudden? Can we blame this on technology too? (Actually, in our sushi conversation, this possibility was brought up by my wife – her point was that many students don’t know how to communicate well with each other in order to get help. Their emotional fix is through “likes”). Are students putting too much pressure on themselves or is there pressure put on them from other means?

I assume there is simply more research on the subjects, so the awareness is becoming more important. But then we are faced with over-diagnosis, unhealthy drug treatments, and pathologizing what would be considered “normal” behaviours.

I watched a video, which I immediately shared with my students, by Dr. Mike Evans (an associate professor of Family Medicine at the University of Toronto – he is currently helping with Health Innovation with Apple in California). In his short video, he highlighted the differences between positive and negative stress. Too much stress is obviously negative, but healthy stress can help you perform at your best (he references athletes), as well as develop your coping mechanisms and problem-solving skills.

So, perhaps the key is *drum roll*…EDUCATION! Maybe we need to teach students HOW to cope with stress and different strategies that may be helpful. My school has recently hired (as of September 2017) a professional in the field of mental health who is on-campus every day and is available for students to seek help from if need be. Our school has also adopted a wellness week (timely, since exams are next week), which includes a variety of activities during lunch that are free for students to engage in. These activities range from sports to therapy dogs.

If you Google coping strategies for stress, there is a long line of suggestions (less caffeine, more sleep, breathing exercises, keep a diary, etc). However, it never seems to be that easy of a fix. As Dr. Evans suggests, we need to change the way we think about stress and understand that it’s normal, but that we cannot escape from it.

 

Shhh!

Posted: November 22, 2017 in Education, Humanity, Literature

A whole year since my last post… I guess I wasn’t bothered by much in the way of education. However, a recent situation has come to light. I am currently in the middle of Orwell’s 1984 and I am trying to teach my students that our culture is not THAT far off from what Winston is experiencing. It’s scary. For example, we live in a society where we are constantly surveilled what with the rise of technology and every Tom, Dick, and Harry whipping out their phones to capture the slightest odd behaviour to post or send to their friends. Now, we are experiencing a hush culture (I came up with that myself) where if the opinion you’re sharing is even slightly uncomfortable or unpopular, you are quickly silenced. Winston Smith (protagonist in 1984) would be shaking his head.

Lindsay Shepherd, a TA at Wilfrid Laurier University (my Alma Mater) recently came under fire from Administration for sharing a clip from Jordan Peterson (Psychology Professor at the University of Toronto) when he appeared on the show ‘The Agenda’. Peterson has been outspoken about his refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns in reference to transgendered people. He claims that these gender-neutral terms only help to perpetuate the over-sensitivity of our culture. Shepherd showed this clip to her students to illustrate “the complexities of grammar…she was trying to demonstrate that the structure of language can impact the society in which its spoken in ways people might not anticipate. To illustrate her point, she said she mentioned that long-standing views on gender had likely been shaped by the gender-specific pronouns that are part of English’s fundamental grammatical structure.” (The Toronto Star, Nov. 21, 2017).

Shepherd was reprimanded by Nathan Rambukkana (Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Laurier) and Adria Joel (Acting Manager of Gender Violence Prevention at Laurier). Rambukkana tells Shepherd that showing the clip to her students created a “toxic climate” and an “unsafe learning environment”. Joel accuses Shepherd of violating the Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy. When Shepherd asks how, Joel tells her that she has caused harm by belittling the identity of transgendered people. This meeting with Rambukkana and Joel was recorded secretly by Shepherd who immediately shared it. The President of WLU and Rambukkana have recently issued apologies to Shepherd, admitting that the sharing of the video, as well as her intent was of no harm to any peoples.

My worry is the impact of this hush culture on our young adults and future leaders. Shepherd’s situation is similar to Winston’s experience in 1984 because of his inability to speak openly without getting in serious trouble (and possibly killed). This stifling of freedom of speech (which is much different than hate speech) is an on-going trend across Universities. For example, last August (2017), the same Jordan Peterson (as well as Gad Saad and Oren Amitay – behavioural scientist and psychologist, respectively) was to appear on a panel discussion at Ryerson University and this panel was effectively cancelled. Not only was the nature of their talk a concern, but also the possible outcry from protestors. It was simply easier to cancel the event.

“University” is a term with Latin roots meaning “community of teachers and scholars”. Traditionally, a University was established for a means of unhindered academic freedom; a place to share educated ideas respectfully, be heard openly, and debate freely. Contemporarily, it seems, Universities have become factories to get students in (even by lowering their entry standards) and spit students out (by leaving them with crippling debt). The aforementioned would be fine, perhaps, if the acquisition of knowledge and great debate were still held in high regard.

Syme, in 1984, is in favour of the government turning the people into robots – citizens who only speak in prescribed statements with no original thought of their own. Perhaps we are closer to this than we think.

Helicopter Parents

Posted: October 20, 2016 in Education

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*The above image is taken from Jeremy Skow’s Mental Health Counselling website. It is hilarious*

I’ll begin by stating that I am not a parent. So, my thoughts are generated solely from a teacher’s perspective. I am well-aware that my wife and I (she is also a teacher) are in no position to judge the actions of parents/guardians when we have no children ourselves. I’ll just get that out of the way. Also, my objective is to present a view…not judge.

First of all, the term “helicopter parent” is used to describe an overbearing parent who makes decisions for their child(ren) by imposing their will upon them and/or taking an “excessive” interest in their lives (according to Google). I don’t know when a parent’s interest in the life of their child becomes “excessive”, but I find the latter half of that definition intriguing.

Parents should take an interest in their child and there are times when they will need to make decisions for them, so the question becomes: When does a parent need to back off and when do they need to take a more hands-on approach? Is there an age we can label students with or is it a maturity label that we need?

The statistics from a Michigan State University study (2015, I think) claims that:
1. 4% of parents attended their child’s interview for a part-time job
2. 12% of parents were the ones who setup their child’s interview for a part-time job
3. 15% of parents made complaints to businesses when their child was not hired
4. 31% of parents submitted their child’s resume for them

Again I’ll ask, at what point should a student start advocating for themselves?
I don’t have the answer for that.

A “helicopter parent” can lead to a “teacup child”. A teacup child is: a cherished possession of their parent; capable of breaking easily; always on display for others to see; only fed high-quality tea; and a reflection of the status of the parent.

Essentially, the child could end up more maladjusted to life even though the intent of the parent is pure and good-hearted. Though, as the saying goes, best intentions do not guarantee desirable outcomes. This is where the “bubble-wrapped generation” term comes from – It is a reference to children who don’t fall down because they don’t take risks because they were coddled for far too long or far too often. The future consequences of a child incapable of taking risks or knowing what it’s like to fail and try again can be insurmountable. Helicopter parenting can also cause anxiety in a child and it can be a detriment to a child’s ability to problem solve – the latter being a key component in most careers and often a quality more sought after in a candidate than grades.

To revert for a moment back to the “teacup” analogy, the overall belief is that a child from an over-bearing parent can do no wrong, but the reality is that they can and those parents should let them. They are human. There needs to be room for personal growth through self-discovery and perseverance.

But again, what do I know?