*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 thinking what else have I not learned and what are my students 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

Exam Meme

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.



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


*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?



In the Public Eye (pt 2)

Posted: August 10, 2016 in Uncategorized


Back in October of 2013, one of my first blog posts was about Toronto’s Mayor – the late Rob Ford. I commented about his personal life and how that affected his position as Mayor of one of the largest cities in the world. To sum up: It was my position that when you’re a public figure, what you do outside of your profession directly impacts your career.

I stand by this. Now, I am not, nor will I ever be, as public of a figure as Rob Ford was, I believe that my actions outside of the classroom directly affect my career, my workplace, and my students. In short, I am careful with the way I behave – it’s not like I’m all that crazy anyway.

As of this month (Aug/2016), Nadia Shoufani (a teacher in the Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board) was suspended with pay for speaking at an event in Toronto last month (Jul/2016). She spoke in support for Hezbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) – a group classified as a terrorist organization by the Government of Canada (publicsafety.gc.ca).

I’ll admit, I am slightly torn.

My initial reaction: I was happy that Ms. Shoufani was suspended and, ideally, she should be fired too. She teaches young and impressionable minds (she teaches elementary school) and though she may not speak on this subject in-class, her actions outside of the classroom affect her students.

My reaction afterwards: I don’t know exactly what was said by Shoufani at the event, so it is possible that she was not advocating violence (as we often associate with terrorist groups…hence the name). Moreover, if they are a classified terrorist group, why is it that they were even allowed to host an event in the first place? It is possible that Shoufani was simply exercising her freedom of speech – as long as no public harm or threat of violence was issued. Right?

Therefore, I am torn. On the one hand, the Government of Canada must have a good reason for classifying such a group, but on the other hand, there is a bit of a slippery slope here. At what point can Ms. Shoufani speak her beliefs without the threat of suspension and/or termination from her profession? At what point is the private life of a teacher separate from their public life in front of his or her students?

I believe I have landed back on my initial reaction – I need to trust that my Government has classified correctly and justly and that Ms. Shoufani should then be careful with which groups she associates herself with. Moreover, if she’s willing to risk being a part of such a group, then she needs to be prepared for the consequences.

Two Quick Thoughts:
The above incident reminds me of Shawn Simoes – a young man fired from Hydro One back in May/2015 for yelling ‘FHRITP’ on camera at a Toronto FC game. Hydro One eventually fired Mr. Simoes for not adhering to company conduct. They hired him back in late 2015.
2. An idiot phoned into AM640 to comment on the Shoufani situation and said that civics (and politics, in general) should not be taught in schools because teachers always try to force their beliefs on their students. He went on to say that it is “hard to find two conservative kids graduating these days.”

Orwell v. Huxley

Posted: March 9, 2016 in Education


*The caption for the cartoon above states: Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance* – the visual is part of a series by Stuart McMillen (2009)

I am currently teaching George Orwell’s 1984 to my grade 11 class. We’re into chapter 5 (of 24) and they are enjoying it… I’m pretty sure. They’re engaged and that’s as much as I can ask for at the moment. It’s a novel written in 1949 that highlights Orwell’s fears of what the world would look like 35 years into the future. The novel is about a 39-year old man living under constant surveillance being run by a totalitarian government. Every part of the protagonist’s life is controlled by the government, including (but not limited to): when he eats, what he eats, when he exercises, when he works, what his job is, and what rations he is entitled to. The history books are filled with lies, sex for pleasure is a rebellious act, bonds between people do not exist, and faith/love are shown only towards the leader (Big Brother).

“This world could never exist,” says a grade 11 student.
“It has,” I say. “And it still does.”

This morning I showed the VICE documentary on North Korea…

In any case, 1984 is an interesting study since our current culture exists in a world of surveillance – everyone seems to have a cellphone these days, there are cameras on every street corner, and even in Minority Report fashion, department stores are starting to cater their advertisements to specific people based on facial recognition. Is there a private world anymore? I reference Shawn Simoes – a graduate of Wilfrid Laurier University who recently lost his Sunshine List job due to a comment he made (FHRITP) while on camera at a Toronto FC game. Hydro One (his now former employer) claimed that his on-screen antics didn’t match up with the company’s ethical standard to which its employees were expected to uphold. I, personally, agree with the dismissal.

Years prior to the publication of 1984, Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World (1932). In this novel, Huxley wrote about his fear of the future. The visual at the top of the post highlights one of his many worries featured in his novel – the ‘sea of irrelevance’ that seems to have taken over our culture.

Here is how McMillen broke down the thoughts of each author:
Orwell – He feared people who banned books
Huxley – He feared that one day books would become irrelevant
Orwell – He feared that governments would keep information from their citizens
Huxley – He feared that citizens would be hit with too much information
Orwell – He feared that the ‘truth’ would be concealed
Huxley – He feared that the ‘truth’ would be drowned by insignificant news
Orwell – It is evident in his novel that people are controlled by pain
Huxley – It is evident in his novel that people are controlled by pleasure

To sum up, Orwell feared what others may do to us, but Huxley worried about what we may do to ourselves. Both authors have valid arguments, as both sets of fears are relatable to our current culture.

What values are we aligning ourselves with and how do those values make their way into the classroom?