As we watch the markets and bemoan our losses, I always wonder if I should feel badly or positively about the changes. I always have this unfortunate feeling that the little guy loses and the big business wins regardless of the corrections to the market place. I have started to read the Guardian as a feed. It helps me see the global picture when my CBC feed doesn’t cover it. This article by Alfred Gusenbauer gives a little hope. Perhaps if we, citizens of capatalist democracies, can see the truth in the need to protect the weakest from ourselves, we can make a change to our structures. Failures are learning opportunites, right?
Category Archives: social justice
The Canadian Government has tabled a law which addresses the new environment for information sharing. It is unfortunately not a very good one according to many accounts, M. Geist, Digital Copyright Canada, James Bow.
So although I am simply a citizen. I have written my MP and the PM and Mr. Prentice to state my views.
I encourage you to do likewise. I am ever hopeful that the Canadian governing system works and each voice counts. I often don’t get my way but I still let them know what I’m thinking. It gives me complaining rights at the very least.
Since I finished my Master’s work, I have had the chance to read for fun! What a novelty! I love a good read and it seems that I’m not that discerning as to quality. I like a page turner such as One for the Money and a Giller winner such as Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures. This weekend I had the opportunity to read The 100 Mile Diet. I am challenged. Can someone do this in Saskatchewan? Clearly the First Nations people lived off the land here and survived, so it is possible. Besides I would have flour which was more than a little challenge for the 100 Mile Diet authors. I’m looking in my pantry and I know my goods have traveled a fair distance to arrive and many of them are untraceable. In 100 Mile Diet the couple eats for an entire year from products produced within a 100 Mile radius of their home. (Ok, they live in the Fraser Valley, makes it a little easier perhaps but still our current food system is skewed against it.)
This isn’t a new idea to me. My husband and I buy almost all are meat from a local producer and we have a small garden. We have done a little canning – beet pickles and strawberry jam. How far down this road are we willing to go? I think so far I would be look at transforming breakfast. It would be no real loss to not eat pre-fab cereal for breakfast and I’m fairly certain that finding locally traceable grains in Saskatchewan will not be an impossible task. Could we eat entirely locally produced food? What would it cost? Do we have the time to do the canning, freezing, preparing of foods in summer for the following approximately 7 months? Would we find company on the road?
Each text has a point of view and angle. Non-fiction will take a particular stance on a subject. Children’s literature tends to portray the world as a simple place, a happy place, a homogeneous place, a stereotypically diverse place, a place of constant obvious values and hope. What does it mean if this is the reality that we share with children? If all families come from clean and spacious homes, if all teenagers look like Barbie, if boys are strong and dangerous and girls are pretty and decorative?
Nodelman and Reimer suggest that in presenting children’s literature we can both use the familiar texts and biases to help to trouble these waters. Do these characters look like you? Do they live in a similar way? How does that compare to what you know of the rest of society? How true are these stories? Who is powerful and who is weak in these stories? Are these stories good stories? We will always have bias in text, we need to teach students and children ways of asking questions which challenge the texts they read and the media they consume.
What do we let children read? When do we let them read it? I am a regular censor of the materials I let my own child read and particularly watch on T.V. I have done this censoring deliberately to frame the world for my child in the ways I believe will make the world a better place. We don’t watch violent movies and that word ‘violent’ is fairly broadly drawn. On the other hand, I gladly read “Heather has Two Mommies” to my son and “Tango makes Three“. Within my own family, I make my own choices and develop the reading repertoire of my son, my own way. How do I take that to school?
At school, I choose books to read aloud to my students, would I choose “Heather has Two Mommies” or Tango makes Three” or for that matter later “Stitches“? I would include them in my collection if I was choosing, but would I use them in the classroom? I don’t know. I would talk to my principal first and I would analyze my reasons. I do think the same values that I hold up for my son as important are ones which would benefit my students but do I want to open that can of worms? I feel weak in my convictions and I wonder what my division would do if push came to shove. Would I be required to make an apology if I offended parents or community members? I have no idea. I have never made that kind of controversial decision.
Can kids handle it? I believe that they can. In fact, I think my son has a more open understanding now than perhaps he will as a pre-teen. In my unscientific observations, children in Kindergarten and Grade One are more open than students in Grades Three to Eight and then it seems to start to reverse again. Generalizations I know. Right now my son is willing to say that families can have a mom and a dad, a mom, a dad, two moms, two dads, or any other variation on ‘normal’. I don’t know whether that will stick or not.
There are taboos in public education and it certainly affects the literature that we use in school. Spirituality and religion are a big no-no these days. I know I tread carefully around the idea of God and different religions. Students will ask if I go to church. I will say yes. I try to deliberately expand the religious calendar to include less dominant events (in this part of Canada) such as Diwali, Ramadan, Hannukah… I am not very good at it yet. I am not sure how far down the road I can go before it offends someone.
In our neighbouring school division the taboos are different. It is a Catholic division. They have to tow the line on homosexuality, birth control, family structures… I don’t know if I would trade them. We each have to walk around our own eggshells.
Each of the school divisions have had to face some of the challenges brought on by Harry Potter. Can the children handle the books? Do we need to protect them from books with unusual content? At what point do we let the children decide and then simply discuss the content with them. These are certainly questions I will face as a parent and as a teacher. It is easier with my own kids. I am allowed my own bias with my own kids. When my son starts to want to see the films that everyone else is seeing, we will need to make that choice. I remember wanting to see Grease in 1978. I was eight, my sister was ten. The answer was NO. I saw the movie later at about 16. I confirmed their choice. It had not been appropriate for me at eight, I thought. Now I wonder. Would it have harmed me to see the values which would not and still don’t match my own?
How do you choose? What do we prevent kids from seeing? Do we need to?
I have been attending Congress 2007 and am trying to process some of what I have taken in there. I have attended quite a number of workshops but most of them have carried a similar thread about the importance of telling stories, hearing stories, writing stories and talking about stories, particularly our own stories through autobiography.
Laara Fitznor – a Cree woman and professor – told her family’s story and wove it together with the history of the First Nation’s people of Canada. She is a strong and intelligent woman. What she told rang in my memory for the next few days and I am trying to break through my cognitive dissonance and find a resting place. She talked a bit about where we are in the story that has been written between First Nation’s and Metis people of Canada and the rest of us. She talked about our being in a place where we can re-story to work as allies and open up spaces within society for the growth of Indigenous peoples and their contributions to society in Canada.
I want to be a part of the retelling, the re-storying. I am not sure what my role is but it has made me wonder about my reaction to the story of “Snow Tunnel Sisters“. Is my reaction to the story grown out of an inability to appreciate the nature of Metis storytelling? Is my ability to critique literature inhibited by my own identity as a colonially-educated white middle-class female? There are times when I am deeply aware of myelf as a person living on the land of a disposed people. This is one of those times. I definitely to take more time to think on this and find my story, particularly as it relates to my being a treaty person, that is, a party to the treaty which resulted in my being able to own land, become educated, have family, etc. here in Canada.
I really want an ipod, well an mp3 player. I have been thinking about it for a year or so now. The last time I really thought about it I decided that the cd players and tape players that mostly sit dormant in the t.v. unit were probably still sufficient to the task. I try to pass of my ‘need’ for this piece of technology as a necessary part of my professional development. How can I know the potential of a tool that I do not use myself? Yet deep down, I’m pretty sure I don’t need one today, any more than I did yesterday.
I have a personal fight going on between the ‘need generating maching’ we call public relations and advertising and my own conscience. I have three computers, the old one, the newer desktop and the newest laptop. I’ve had the opportunity to become reacquainted with Macs this year and I regret buying my laptop PC. I really like the Macs. My civil libritarian wants to use Linux. I don’t think I know enough to go that route, so I’m stuck in the slavery of pc or mac machinges and applications. And truth be told, the machines I have now will do. I need not ‘need’ a different one.
I want to make a difference, that is why I teach, perhaps that is why any teacher teaches. I’m wondering how I bring together these disparate forces. I’m excited by the possibilities for real learning that technology may afford. I believe that bringing these technologies into the classroom is one of the ways to ensure that students without at home access have a chance to break into the power circle which already has access. But does using technology with its endless ‘need’ for upgrading and improvement really contribute to the kind of society that I wish to see in the world. Will I be “living the change I want to see in the world” (Ghandi)?
I am thinking about these dichotomies a la Clarence Fisher; technology or literacy, environment or technology. I keep thinking that the answers are really somehow – both/and rather than either/or.
We’ll see. I’d still like an ipod.
Is there a learning advantage to using information and communication technologies in school? Quite often we hear the refrain that more computer technology is necessary for schools. The costs of the equipment alone can be a staggering portion of the educational budget. On top of those costs are the software licensing and the personnel required to sustain the system. Much as I believe that schools need to be providing the skills and access to information technologies, I wonder about the cost to the system and whether the question of gains in student learning are addressed or even considered when the technological aquisitions are deliberated.
Boris Berenfeld‘s article, “Telecommunications in Our Classroom” provides a clear discussion of the issues as they played out in the 60′s and 80′s with television and early computer technologies and now as the web 2.0 comes into play. The primary question of whether teachers adopt the technologies and if the technologies lead to improvement in student learning takes center stage. He outlines a new learning paradigm based on solid pedagogy. Good pedagogy regardless of its relationship to technology. He believes that a technogically enhanced education will: be bring more real world relevance into the classroom, involve students in constructing their own knowledge, provide a life-long learning model, imporve social, communication and critical-thinking skills, be project or inquiry-based, be more authentic, improve the connections between the school and expert-mentors and be more equitable in the distribution of resources. This model is a powerful one but it seems to me, it’s power is unrelated to the technology. I supposed that is not surprising as schools are not about technology but about learning.
Schools and learning are about relationship and story. Take a look at Christopher Long’s Future of Learning Manifesto #9. It’s not about technology. In the research that I have completed this last year speaking with a young computer literate teen, it was clearly about relationships and writing and not about computers, even though she was a self-confessed cyber-nerd. We need to get over the technology and simply use it. The same way we just use a pencil when it suits the purpose or a calculator when it suits the purpose. The ‘Digital Natives’ know this intuitively. My informant knew little about the capacities of her computer – its speed, its connection, its software, but she could game, chat and do homework simultaneously. It’s not about the technology but the technology is there much as books and pencils are a part of the school landscape, technology needs to be a part of the landscape.
It is about the technology when teachers don’t know how to use it, don’t want to use it and don’t think it is important. It is about the technology when the costs of installing it and keeping it working are weighed against the costs of paying the teachers, buying the books and paying the utilities. It is about the technology when the facility in use of the technology can be extremely varied, when a child in an affluent neighbourhood can use the computer to find information, analyse it for usefulness and compose a multi-media response and a child in a less affluent neighbourhood can use it to play an online video game; then the technology ceases to be a part of the landscape but a stepping stone for some and a stumbling block for others.
Public schools need to provide educational opportunities to students from all backgrounds and teach students about the power of these tools in providing information, maitaining social connections, developing personal portfolios. In this sense it is about more than if the learning environment is enhanced but also a question of whether the social capital of students is enhanced. Technology is a part of the landscape of our society and as it becomes a part of the landscape of school, we need to make sure we use it in pedagogically sound ways and societally-just ways.
When I first began to think about setting up my blog, I had to contemplate the public nature of the format and the impact that could have on my work life and my personal life. These wonderings take sharper focus when I hear news clips of folks who’ve lost their jobs due to the discussions on their blogs.
As a free speech advocate, fledgling member of the teacher librarian community and current member of academia, I chafe at the need to watch what I say. There are always issues requiring attention and advocacy at a local level, must I be silent on the issues which concern me most? I think about the classroom that my son is in and the issues that I find as a parent and teacher, also a tricky balance. Can I speak about those issues – as a parent, on my blog?
I guess I have answered myself with my actions. I do not speak about my employer, expect when it is positive, my son’s classroom except to say that he is happy and is being taught by a professional who takes her role seriously and does her job well. Is this careful speech still free?
Doug from Blue Skunk, addressed this issue very well today.
“Write assuming your boss is reading.” Good advice. I don’t think my boss has been here yet, too busy. I sent her an invitation the other day. I guess I’m not too afraid of what I have said. As my husband and I start to think about setting up a blog for his classes, I wonder how you frame this for students. Write as though your grandmother was reading? Write as though your future job was on the line? Probably better yet, write assuming I, your teacher, am reading, which of course I am.
“Gripe globally; praise locally.” There is much to praise in the local context. Sometimes it is easier to see the downfalls of the system that you sit within, but hearing from the global community can give a frame of reference. In one of my courses, I am in contact with teacher librarians mostly from within Canada but some more global contacts. I realize how fortunate my colleagues and I am to be working in a division with personnel resources, computers and bandwidth which far and away outstrips my online acquaintances. One can see the room for improvement but it is also good to see the ongoing benefits of one’s home.
I’m glad I can join a broad chorus of educators in taking a stand against standardized testing and business model application to the educational setting. I can say from the safety of my Canadian home and school, that NoChildLeftBehind is not good for students or teachers and that there is a growing body of evidence and experts voicing their discontent. I hope that my provincial bureaucrats and my school administrators are watching and carefully weighing what they see. Let’s look for models which are not based on the current American model. There are other ways to view education.
“Write for edited publications.” Here is a new challenge. I have set as a goal for this year to publish something. Now I have to decide what and where!
“Write out of goodness.” I hope that I write for a change in education. I named my blog ‘What Counts” because I fear that we count the things that are not important and ignore the things that are important. The quotation attributed to Albert Einstein, which ‘what counts’ come from is as follows – “Not everything that counts can be counted, not everything that can be counted counts”. I hope that to speak for the things that count is ‘to write out of goodness’. I don’t know if that is protection against the powers that be. Surely if you were to look at some of the great persons in history who wrote and spoke ‘out of goodness’ – Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King; they were not saved by their goodness. I do not put myself on a par with their goodness or their influence, nor do I expect that I will suffer their fate. It is something to ponder.
I will blog. I will say what I believe in my manifesto. I will tell you that we need to play more, listen more, change more, try more, laugh more and test less, sit less, measure less, enforce less. I often think of Martin Luther, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”
New times talk always makes me a little wary. I wonder about the baby and the bathwater. Colin Lankshear and James Gee have written extensively on new literacies and new times. Both of them advocated for schools and educators responding to the changing literacy environment and both of them caution against schools as a tool for ‘equipping workers’.
When reading articles on information literacy and the importantance of educational reform, I am cautious when the reform is touted as a response to the ‘critical literacy skills required of the Canadian workforce’ particularly if the refomr involves a move towards ‘curriculum standardization’ as mentioned in Christina Doyle’s monograph, which I must admit I have not read extensively.
I have talked about the dangers of standardization before or at least the only way I can see them being useful. It’s one thing to have standards and another to use them as a sword.
Schools are so easily turned from institutions which support and empower to institutions which tear down and hinder. When we advocate for the critical thinking and the inclusion of information literacy, we need to be cautious that we don’t use the language and rhetoric of capitalism and the business model which has already run amok, for an incredibly depressing and compelling portrait read “Voltaire’s Bastard’s” by John Ralston Saul.
As educators, it is important to construct our arguments with care and to use the language and rhetoric which supports a fully free society. I believe that schools need to provide a relevant and dynamic education to all children and youth. I believe that that education is not to be designed to create ‘workers’ but to empower citizens. These functions need not be antithetical. Critical literacy, information literacy and technological literacy can be used to equip workers and to empower citizens. I see a society which is open to the participation of all, valuing the contribution of each member. This model of society is not well reflected in our current capitalist structure. I hope the education that our schools provide can enable students to envision a different structure and give them the skills to work towards it.
Big dreams perhaps.