Archive for the ‘Humanity’ Category

*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.



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.

Being Good and Individualism

Posted: February 5, 2015 in Education, Humanity


*The above photo is the name of a book I had to read when I was the Assistant Manager of the campus nightclub at University. Bob Farrell is the author of this text designed to teach employees (specifically those in the service industry) how to simply be an effective employee and a leader*

Recently, I asked my grade 11 students whether or not it’s important to be a good person. It was nice to see that none of them said it wasn’t important, and the responses (if I may say) were not at all shocking. According to my students, it is important to be a good person because it makes you feel good; it can create a positive change in the world; it makes others feel good; it can help you gain respect; it makes Christ happy (for those that have a Christian lens); and it can make it easier for you to exist as a part of society (both local and global). These responses were exactly what I was looking for and it was nice to see young minds having such a positive outlook on being a generally good person.

I should also mention that this particular group of grade 11’s are quite bright and many of them are leaders in their own way – hence why I expected their shared responses. They are a very keen group who are willing to learn, can show respect for themselves and others, and they know when to have fun, but also know when to do their work – trust me when I say that this isn’t classroom-specific, but their grade in general. So, we spoke about being “good.” I then asked them, “As a rather solid group of grade 11’s, do you have a social and academic responsibility to set an example and contribute to how the school is run? OR, are you fine with being at school as long as your own teacher, your own classes, and your own grades are just fine? Their responses were shocking. The majority of students were fine with the latter…

So, the question then becomes, how are you supposed to be a good person and care about what happens out in the world, when you can’t even care about what happens in your own school?

Bob Farrell, in his book mentioned above, makes something very clear: That sometimes what you do when no one is looking can be more powerful than when you are being watched… This powerful message makes me consider where the source of our motivation comes from in doing good works for others. For example, if a student is walking through the halls of their school and notices a leftover lunch bowl laying around, do they: 1. Walk by it? 2. Pick it up because a teacher is nearby? or 3. Pick it up whether there are people around or not?

There’s no argument, we live in a very individualistic society whereby we look after ourselves and those close to us, but seldom do we venture further past that. I am certainly to blame as well.

How do you teach active citizenship? We have a difficult time reconnecting to each other in a time where the ability to connect is more plausible than ever! How do you teach someone to care? How do we learn to love each other?

The 21st Century “Man”

Posted: September 23, 2014 in Education, Humanity


*The above cartoon is from Cyanide & Happiness and meant to be funny…*

In a 2013 article, entitled Why Chivalry is Dead, writer John Picciuto clearly states that he believes chivalry (the medieval term in reference to showing honour, respect, and one’s morality) is dead.

From my grandmother to my mother, you better believe I learned my lessons, either verbally or via the wooden spoon. But why now does it seem like it’s completely impossible for men to do what I would consider the ‘normal’ thing?

Picciuto goes on to state that this new “hookup culture” (he calls it) has altered a man’s perspective of what it means to court a lady, date a lady, and ultimately respect a lady. Towards the end of the article, however, Picciuto puts the pressure on the women – he claims that they need to start acting like they “hold the cards” if they expect their man to change.

I have seen how the young men of today (teenagers) treat the opposite sex. I see this in my classroom, I see it in the halls, and I see this out in public. This is not a commentary on a specific group of boys from a specific school; this is a commentary on teenage boys in general – and not all, but many. Yes, we can blame technology for this one too because technology sure has changed how we interact with people, but certainly holding doors open, speaking respectfully, and conducting oneself appropriately are antiquated notions.

Now, I’m not the most romantic guy nor do I always say the right things to my wife (but what husband does, am I right?), but I am always respectful. This respect is transferred to all women I interact with like my colleagues, my friends, and anyone else. I mean, I’ve heard boys telling girls to ‘shut up,’ seen boys be overly aggressive with girls, and watched as these young men tell inappropriate jokes and conduct themselves unmannerly in front of their female counterparts. Have times changed that much?

I often joke that there needs to be a course in schools regarding character development, but the obvious rebuttal is that character development can happen in any course at any time. I immediately think back to my time in high school (as teachers often do) and wonder what kind of a young man I was. Was I just as off-putting as the young men of today? Were my teachers back then hoping they’d have a class to teach on character development? I shudder to think that the answer to both of those questions is ‘yes.’ Are these boys just being boys?

Perhaps the idea of a “man” has changed. A funny, informative, and oddly accurate depiction of the 21st century man was documented in a film entitled Mansome (which I have watched three times). It shows how men have become a manicured (and often pedicured) mix between attitude and leadership, but also sensitivity and vanity. No young man wants to be a tough John Wayne or even a romantic Robert Redford – in fact, the young men of today aren’t sure who they want to be.

I don’t have the answers. All I know is that respect for the opposite sex needs to be at the top of their list of manners and perhaps it begins with thinking about the kind of man they want to be. Of course, the flip side is to take our cue from men like Chris Brown and Ray Rice…Maybe this is a call not only to young men, but to adult men as well.


The sChOOL Uniform

Posted: July 24, 2014 in Education, Humanity

School Uniform Joke

I started wearing a school uniform in high school. I had no issue with it. As far as I know, my friends never had an issue with it either and if they did, I certainly was never made aware of their displeasure. I attended a Catholic high school and our school colours were maroon and grey… ‘nuff said. We had to wear dress shoes (I wore a heavy pair of Dr. Martens) and they had to be brown or black. The strictness of my school’s policy never fazed me. As far as I was concerned, if I didn’t want to wear the uniform that badly, I would have just gone to a different school. It was nice not having to choose what to wear every morning and I assume some students benefitted by this as well by, perhaps, not having the most popular brands of clothes. Though, if I remember correctly, no one really cared about that kind of thing.

The high school I teach at is also a uniform school. I have no sympathy for my students who complain about this because they are allowed to wear whatever shoes they’d like. “If you want to express your individuality,” I tell them, “then wear colourful laces.” They have no idea how lucky they are to be able to wear their own shoes. Moreover, starting in September of 2014, my school is offering a new line of school wear, which includes (but is not limited to): a hoodie, a sharp-looking cardigan, and sweatpants – these students are sooo lucky!

15-year old blogger, Chloe Spencer, claims the school uniform “may not be the ingredients for [her] favourite outfit…but if [she] were given the choice, [she] wouldn’t throw away the idea of school uniform. Wearing a uniform is a badge of pride.” In Spencer’s post last October (2013), she vehemently declares that wearing a school uniform not only “teaches students to dress smartly” but that it shows students “buying into what the organisation is all about.” I would agree. This is why the majority of businesses require a dress code of sorts whether it be a cashier at McDonald’s or a lawyer entering his/her firm.

According to Spencer’s research, roughly 160,000 students miss school everyday out of the fear of being bullied or intimidated because of their clothes. Perhaps a uniform keeps students focused, keep students equal, and keeps students from being lost at field trips.

Just get used to being told what to wear…that’s your life now.

The point of a uniform is to remain uniform – to remain the same, unchanging. Both a uniform and a dress code go hand-in-hand. Wearing both communicates something about your character within a certain environment. Think of why you would wear one thing and not another on a first date or for an interview or while working as a doctor or teacher or car salesperson. What we communicate through our dress (whether we like it or not) is received either positively or negatively by those around us. Does it mean I can’t trust a doctor who decides to wear jeans or that you can’t learn from a teacher with a stain on his or her sweater? Not exactly. But their choice of dress will dictate how those around them will act. When a student wears the uniform and wears it well, they communicate respect for themselves and their school – there’s that badge of pride Ms. Spencer was talking about.

I suppose when students dress together, they learn together, and it perpetuates the idea that learning is community, not an individual process.

Teacher Gifts

Posted: June 27, 2014 in Education, Humanity


*The following photo is taken from artist Dave Granlund. Though, my “Today’s Words” would be different: Coach, Lacoste, Jack & Jones*

On AM640, they had yet another segment on how horrible teachers are – this time it was regarding our acceptance of teacher gifts at the end of the semester/year. I don’t really mean to bash AM640 since I am an avid listener, but every time it’s a topic regarding education, it’s parents calling in to explain the awful things their child’s teacher has done recently.

Up until yesterday (when I first heard the segment), I had no idea that the giving and receiving of teacher gifts was such a debatable topic…and a heated one at that! My parents were those who had me give my teachers gifts when I was in elementary school and I am pretty sure that continued into high school. When I began my teaching career as a grade 7/8 teacher and I received my first teacher gift, I was very surprised. I think I can speak for every teacher when I say that gifts are NEVER expected, but ALWAYS appreciated when they are given.

The point made numerous times on the radio yesterday was that teachers shouldn’t be awarded extra for simply “doing their job.” That reminds me of a Dwight Schrute quote from The Office when he says: “Why tip someone for a job I’m capable of doing myself? I can deliver food. I can drive a taxi. I can, and do, cut my own hair. I did, however, tip my urologist because I am unable to pulverize my own kidney stones.” I suppose the big question then is: Are teachers really just “doing their job” or is it not as simple as that?

Teachers are asked to be guidance councillors, psychologists, parents (to some degree), babysitters (in another sense), and role models on top of being granted the authority over a child’s education. Of course the rebuttal to all of that is…teachers knew what they signed up for. So, with that all being said, I am not on one side or the other. I am certainly against receiving money (never have, thankfully), though I have received Tim Horton’s gift cards and the odd time a gift card to the LCBO (liquor store) – I suppose that’s receiving money, to a certain extent. Other gifts include thank you cards, bottles of wine, gift baskets, and other tokens of appreciation.

Are teachers just “doing their job”? Absolutely. Though, it is one of the most important careers out there (if I may say so in the most biased way possible). I mean, you wouldn’t tip your doctor – but again, the rebuttal from some teachers would be that they are well-compensated for their career choice. Another argument is that servers are just doing their job, but then again, the rebuttal is that they are not well-compensated for their job.

So…the age-old question: Who is tip/gift worthy?

I’ll repeat again – never expected, but always appreciated.

“Sign Your Name”

Posted: April 11, 2014 in Education, Humanity


On AM640, there’s been debate lately over the skill of handwriting and whether or not it should be taught in elementary schools. From what I’ve heard, there are a variety of opinions: 1. Teach it early (grade 3) – ensure the students practice it by enforcing that their work be handwritten, 2. Make it optional – in other words, teachers can teach it if they want and can enforce it if they want, 3. Don’t teach it – it’s a dying skill and everyone types on a computer these days anyway.

The picture above is very similar to what I saw as a young student (I can’t remember what grade, but it was early). My teacher taught handwriting, made us practice it everyday (we had a handwriting workbook), and made sure our submitted work was handwritten. We were never told why we had to learn it (we were probably too young to understand why anyway), but this has certainly become an issue with parents. From the sounds of it, parents want their child to learn it, but with some teachers not teaching it, parents have taken it upon themselves to teach their child themselves.

The advantage to learning handwriting is that it develops fine motor skills in young children (the ability to control the movement of fingers and manipulate small objects). It also helps with brain development – our brain receives feedback from our motor actions along with the sensation of touching a pencil/pen to paper; this feedback is different than when we touch our fingers to a keyboard. Finally, the advantage is that it’s simply quicker than printing – when you print, you’re forced to take your writing utensil off of the page a lot more often than with handwriting. These are three very solid reasons for learning handwriting.

With that being said, I don’t handwrite – even with the amount of practice I had as a child, I slowly transitioned back to printing. To me, my printing was neater than my handwriting. Nowadays, my writing has combined elements of both printing and handwriting into one catastrophic mess. It’s true, though, I tend to type these days more than write.

Anecdote: Every-so-often I supervise the S.A.T testing at my school. Students from the surrounding area spend their entire morning writing the S.A.T’s – a very tough set of tests designed for Canadian students to enter post-secondary education in the United States. Though these tests may be difficult, many students struggle with one aspect: handwriting their acknowledgment not to share the test questions with anyone. Allow me to explain. At the culmination of their testing, students must handwrite a few sentences agreeing not to share the test questions. Students will ask me how to write a capital “F” or a lowercase “r” and by direction of the S.A.T institution, I am not allowed to help them. This part of the day takes much time to complete simply because students, these days, have no idea how to handwrite. What makes matters worse is that because students do not know how to handwrite, the S.A.T institution changed the instructions, which clearly state that if students do not know how to handwrite, simply complete the acknowledgment to the best of their handwriting ability.

I’ll admit, I’ve told certain students of mine to start typing their paragraph responses to me, so that I can actually read their work and mark it. I don’t feel too bad about this. Otherwise, I’ll have to pop an Advil every time I have to grade their written work (exaggeration).

My opinion? It’s a dying art form, but what’s going to happen when they have to sign their name on a government-issued document?…