An Olfactory Serenade

We take photographs with all sorts of gadgets and we record sounds with an equal number of devices all in the hope that we can capture some moment, some special event or time that we wish to share and make available for some future time. What we cannot really capture are smells – those olfactory moments that grab our attention in both positive and at times, challenging ways.

This evening as I sit working at my siren of hope and beacon of light I am serenaded by a sweet and beautiful scent from somewhere in my neighborhood. Probably some fresh cut item in a nearby garden. The evening air is cool yet mixed with this fragrant dance from some organic source hidden in the darkness of the evening.

The day has been rich and warm and those in the neighborhood seemed to glide in a peaceful way that comes with a quietude associated with late summer. I savour the moments and the accompanying peace.

I dies at you…

“I dies at you” — Well I suppose I could have said “kjds devtvtwrv reqfrg” or something similar and then some rube’ish soul might suggest that the latter means the same as the former, but thanks to my wonderful students from another Canadian island, I have learned that these words is real.  Yes, for example I must learn to say “stay where you’re to and I’ll come where you’re at”. Hmmm.

You see, on my island in the Pacific we have been left with the vestiges of 19th century workingman’s English as well as a twinge of some form of pretentious English that has hung on for generations even though there hasn’t been an Englishman in the family for 5 generations. Yet amazingly, 97.6% of our friends from the “1/2 hour ahead” region in Canada claim their mother tongue to be something called “Newfoundland English”. This is so very cool.

I am teaching in an online program where at the start of the program students attend a 2-week on-campus residency. This past Friday evening my students had a pub night in town and I was invited. My students are from the far reaches of this country. Some teach offshore in exciting places and some speak the Queen’s English quite different from ways I understand it. But… this is the fun part. Yes there is a version of the English language (or dialect – you pick) spoken in Canada (other than 15th century French) that is unique. Check it out – there is a Wikipedia page.

Put together 14 adults on a university campus for 2 weeks and after a long academic week it was so much fun to be a part of the dialect shenanigans. It was grand fun and I only wish I could have been able to correctly adapted to the linguistic challenges that a noisy bar and energetic young, eager students seem to embrace as though it was their second nature.

Besides learning to appreciate (and have fun) with the language it was a treat to be a part of student, after-class dynamics. The energy was electric and although I do have a vague memory of such social events in my past, it helped remind me that it is events such as these that help to bind and bond us as we head on new adventures. In education we speak often about “community” and we talk about all sorts of ways of building communities both face-to-face as well as online. There are gimmicks and strained activities forced upon our students however at the end of the day it is these wonderful social affairs that serve to help us find our place.

I see a great community of learners and although I have focused on a few who have worked hard to welcome me into their linguistic world, I am very fortunate to be a part of a wonderful community of supportive and supporting learners who are getting ready to launch into a 2-year academic journey. Lessons learned and then some.

Why Blog?

Some years ago I overheard a fellow teacher state something to the effect that metaphorically the halls of our college were the place where students can and should trip and fall so that that by the time they completed their program they would have learned what was needed to stand on their own and be successful beyond the halls and walls of the institution. This is a face-to-face college and at the time the statement resonated with me although over the years I have wondered about the “trip and fall” part of this and just what shape this might take.

I believe that the process of things is very important and I wonder if the process of blogging can be a benefit in the finding of one’s voice and the honing one’s thoughts. In other words, can blogging become a form of trial and error testing or serve as a form of trip and fall? One of my excuses for not blogging very often is the time it takes. I fuss and I rewrite and rethink my words to death and in the end there is little left to post. I rationalize and I get in my own way instead of posting my thinking (complete or otherwise) and letting it fly for others to either engage with or not. Many good ideas get shelved because of this “I’m not sure it’s good enough” attitude.

Years ago my Master’s supervisor repeatedly had to tell me to stop reading and start write. I argued that I wasn’t ready and I needed to refine my thinking further. She wisely told me that I would never be ready if I believed I needed everything refined and supposedly perfect before I wrote. I finally realized that my writing barrier was that I wanted a finished, completed and correct product the first time I wrote. Yet when I finally found that part of me that permitted me to write; my successful thesis presented itself. My supervisor could finally see my ideas and could assist me in refining my thinking. I did not see this as tripping and falling but I did begin to understand the honing process.

I believe that knowledge is socially constructed and that knowledge itself is a process that we need to share yet if we wait for everything to be perfect nothing will ever be produced. Each successfully created product just becomes another process piece and the cycle repeats itself in a process of refinement. Unless we find ways to continually share both the product and the process we prevent ourselves from learning how to stand on our own and grow in our success.

OK I get it –stop rewriting and hit post.

Remembrance Day #November11

We are encouraged to remember on this special day – November 11, Remembrance Day.

But what if we have no baseline upon which to build a remembrance? What if we have never been taught or shown the relevance or significance of this day or even how it can and should touch each and everyone of us like no other day in the year? How can we ask the world, our town, the square upon which we stand, or those in the grocery store line-up to go silent for 2 minutes at 11am on November 11 when many have no concept of the meaning of this event?

The Canadian Legion has a tag line for this day that says “Lest we forget”.  Forget what? In order to go there, to have something that we can dearly hold on to and must not forget however, we need to create a world of meaning and a world from which remembrance can be built and sustained. Only then we can keep alive the flame of remembrance and not forget the sacrifice of men and women who stepped out to help keep alive the idea and the belief we have in this special country of ours.

What is this day and this time? What does it mean beyond the dead and long forgotten soldiers of wars past? Is there something more? Is this day about us as Canadians and what we have done in the past and continue to do to preserve what we care about and believe in?

Yes there are other people and countries who take time on this day to commemorate events from long ago. But in Canada, our day is about Canadians; men and women who willingly stepped out of their daily lives to go a great distance away from their families and step into great and challenging circumstances that forever changed their lives and the lives of those left behind at home. Many did not return home and many more returned home forever damaged in spirit and body. What is there to remember? Was this not long ago? Is this just history?

Oh course it is – history was yesterday and much of it is painful and we just want to move on and return to the life of “before” and the last thing Dad or Grandpa wants to hear is “Were you in the war? – Did you kill someone? – What happened to your friends?” We must find a way to respectfully understand, and honour, and appreciate, and learn, and keep alive the spirit of those who willingly stepped up and made a difference. We must learn first, and then maybe we can remember, and then share, and teach, and help to make November 11 a living memorial for us all.

I have never been to war, I have never fired a gun at another person or dropped a bomb on a city or had to run and duck for cover because bombs were being fired at me. My father and my grandfather, on the other hand were in these circumstances and their lives were changed forever because of their wars. They lost friends and family. They came home scarred and unable to talk of their experiences. Sadly I have a dear friend a year or 2 older than I who found himself in a war not that many years ago and I can only guess at the horrors he witnessed and was helpless to prevent.

Yes there are wars and horrors happening right now in too many places around the world but this must never stop us from taking 2 minutes, one day a year at 11 am on November 11 to think about those men and women who helped to shape our country by willingly going away to places and events that most of us cannot imagine. We are who we are today because of these people (family, friends, and many others) and the various events in our history that have shaped what we have today. We owe it to our fellow Canadians current and past to learn and to never forget and to take 2 minutes once a year to show our respect for their actions, their efforts and their lives.

The following was written in the Manchester Guardian on 12 November 1919.

Know your history – recognize the dates – read it and just imagine how terribly painful yet powerful this memorial event must have been.

The First Two Minute Silence in London (11 November 1919)

The first stroke of eleven produced a magical effect.

The tram cars glided into stillness, motors ceased to cough and fume, and stopped dead, and the mighty-limbed dray horses hunched back upon their loads and stopped also, seeming to do it of their own volition.

Someone took off his hat, and with a nervous hesitancy the rest of the men bowed their heads also. Here and there an old soldier could be detected slipping unconsciously into the posture of ‘attention’. An elderly woman, not far away, wiped her eyes, and the man beside her looked white and stern. Everyone stood very still … The hush deepened. It had spread over the whole city and become so pronounced as to impress one with a sense of audibility. It was a silence which was almost pain … And the spirit of memory brooded over it all.


Damn it – We just don’t seem to get it! (#teachasyoulive)

I always wonder where bigotry and intolerance begins.

We are so quick to point out what is happening elsewhere in the world and/or pick on others such that we fail to see how our behaviours and actions everyday create the potential for hatred and bigotry in our world. It is too easy to poke fun at or laugh at someone else’s situation than to stop for a moment and see the implications of our language or behaviours. I recently read a Facebook comment about the use of the word “hippie” and how a young boy suggested he did not want to be seen as a hippie because he didn’t want to be seen to be lazy. His mother happily posted this and her “friends” laughed at the suggestion and continued to foster their stereotypical dislike of this class of person. It was seen to be funny and like every other jab in our society the funny acceptance of this behaviour only serves to reinforce an “Us-and-Them” approach to our world: yes, intolerance and narrow minded bigotry. One individual did ask if anyone cared to understand the meaning of the term taken from Wikipedia “Personality traits and values that hippies tend to be associated with are “altruism and mysticism, honesty, joy and nonviolence”, but I sensed that this was lost on most in the conversation.

Many in our North American society profess to have a form of spiritual or faith world that they work with and within and they use this as a public (and not so public) crutch to explain their behaviours and their worlds. What is missing in many of these conversations is a depth of understanding and a breadth of appreciation of their supposed religious/spiritual attachments and its impact on their greater world. Do we not live who we are and thus what we reflect to the world? We talk about teaching our children but this teaching too often comes in the form of a list placed on the fridge: do this and don’t do that. Why not just skip the list and live the life we too often profess only in words.

I don’t think it is funny that a little boy would suggest that he didn’t want to be like a hippie because he didn’t want to be seen to be lazy. I think it is sad that he would have such a view at his young age and I think it is sad that a parent would think that the whole conversation was worthy of placing on Facebook in the hope that friends would join in on the apparent fun of it. Come on girl – don’t ya get it! It’s not funny; it’s sad that your child would think that way and it is even sadder that you would think to make this a public conversation.


A teacher’s marking paradigm shift (#learningallthetime)

I just finished a weeklong marking marathon that has caused me to re-examine my marking processes: what is important and how best to assess the work of my students given the changes in the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in today’s classroom. I teach face-to-face at the undergraduate level and I teach fully online at the graduate level. More and more I deal with many of my students asynchronously, using a variety of ICT’s. Regardless of my teaching medium, I am attempting to do away with hardcopy and try to make available viewable and/or downloadable softcopy documents for my students and, in return ask for softcopy documents to be handed in for all assignments. Based upon the types of work I assign, most responses come to me in the form of a Word document.

I have found that marking softcopy Word files takes longer than hardcopy but I also believe I can provide richer commentary in the process. With Word documents I use various review features such as “Track Changes” and the “Comments” feature plus I use the text highlight feature to emphasize words as I read. I use all of these features as a means of “talking” to my students during my review and marking process. I think that in many cases this is becoming the norm today. Additionally I have experimented with converting documents to PDF files and added audio comments. (Adding audio comments in Word is a real pain). This process is picky, as you need to make sure that you set the sampling rate low so that your audio files do not become too large although I have found that I can have a fair bit of audio in an assignment and still keep the file size to less than 10mb. I believe however that audio comments will remain less used as long as file size and bandwidth concerns are an issue.

Marking up Word files as described above remains my number one reliable means of addressing student work and this past week I found myself floundering. The course I had been teaching was a graduate online course and for the final assignment students were offered an opportunity to present their work in any creative way they chose as long as it covered all of the points asked for in the assignment. I had no idea what kind of a process I was to be faced with when it came time to marking. Up to this point in the course students handed in “papers” where I demanded certain academic standards such as APA formatting of the document as well as proper citing of sources and a correctly formatted reference list. I pushed them in this way with the belief that they were heading towards their thesis after my course was finished and academic writing would be something they would need to remain familiar with. Great, you might ask – so then why give an assignment where students could present their work using whatever medium they felt was appropriate? There were many reasons for this and my co-facilitator Lisa deserves much of the credit for encouraging this altered view of an assignment but suffice it to say I received an amazing array of Prezi’s, Wiki’s, Google Docs, a YouTube, an MP3 audio file, several blogs, and a few academic papers, some in Word and some as PDF’s. These ran the full gamut from rich and thick full of ideas to thin and in much need of work. But how do I mark these – how can I read, listen, and watch without having track changes and comments available to annotate and discuss and “talk” to my students in this process? Now I know that some might just shake their heads and suggest that my supposed challenge is an easy fix yet this is a big challenge for a guy who no longer had access to his tried and true method for providing feedback.

Yes I found ways to make the marking work and yes it took a lot longer than it might have if I were just marking nicely formatted Word documents; however the richness and diversity of products was amazing. The different ways my students found to articulate their thinking was a great eye-opener for me. Some students indicated that they only wanted to hand in a traditional academic paper for the practice while others felt that they could express themselves more appropriately using a medium within which they felt more comfortable. I still got to see correctly formatted reference lists and in most cases I saw (or heard) citations in support of the literature being used. I had to find a way to make side-notes as I listened or watched and I created and annotated a checklist of questions I wanted answered. I stopped worrying about word counts and began to see different ways that today’s technologies offer rich and innovative opportunities for students to express themselves. As with any assignment and with the use of any tool, some individuals have a finer hand than others and some have a keener sense of what is needed to get the job done given the parameters and the depth of their commitment. Regardless, as I have always attempted to get my students to understand – education is all about the process and process is just another word for refinement. If I intend to keep pace with the evolution of the use of technologies in education then I need to continue to allow my students to push themselves as I was witness to this past week. Maybe we can all begin to see that learning is about learning and the environments within which learning can occur, and should be supported, are for and about learning regardless of the medium. I am a learner as are my students and dissonance is not necessarily a bad thing.

Remembrance for the disposable veteran (#remembranceday)

I grew up in a military family. There was never any question or doubt about the impact of war on the lives of my father, his brothers or their father (my grandfather). They all served during one of two significant global wars and my father continued to serve in the air force after WW2. That was my reality and this served to shape my contextual view of the annual event we call Remembrance Day.

Rain or shine I grew up knowing that there was an absolute obligation to attend a public Remembrance ceremony and solemnly observe silence in memory of those who gave their lives for our country. Over the years the ceremonies took on different tones based upon the global or local sentiment. At some point in the 1980’s attendance waned and those in attendance lamented the loss of appreciation of the acts taken by those for whom we were there to commemorate. It also seemed, at the time like the world was not interested in stopping to remember but the crass commercialization of so much of our lives seemed to be bulldozing Remembrance Day into oblivion. However world events altered that sentiment and focus returned to the events we stop to consider on November 11. It is a different generation and a different sentiment now yet I think we need to help everyone appreciate and understand the larger view of Remembrance Day.

I always take time from my classes (the last one before November 11) to talk to my students about the reasons for Remembrance Day. I try to help them to see far back into a history many can barely imagine. I want them to try and appreciate the world of my grandparents and what WW1 was and what it meant to the many Canadians who blithely went off to a hell none could have ever imagined and what it did to those who remained behind. I want my students to know how, on July 1, 1916 nearly 58,000 men became casualties on a single day in a senseless battle, how the entire male community of Walhachin BC went off to war and none returned causing the community to fade away as a result of this tragic loss, and how scores and scores of men returned from this war so scarred and damaged that for so many communities, an entire generation was lost and lives were forever changed. I want my students to have a better appreciation of what took place between 1939 and 1945 and what impact this war also had on the people directly involved as well as those at home in Canada. How do you console a mother who receives a letter from her son dated after the war is over saying “I survived and I will see you soon Mom” only to find out a week later that her son’s tank ran over a mine and all in the tank were lost. How do you reintegrate an airman back into life after the war when his job was to take photos of the other planes on his various missions when over half of the photos contain images of his friends being blown up or of airplanes spiralling down out of control knowing none of your friends can escape because of the ensuing fire. How does anyone reconcile this and how do these events shape our world?

My students need to reflect and understand what went into making their worlds today and how their communities have become what they are today, and as a result of this reflection to then take this one November day, or an hour of this day, or even just 2 minutes to try and think about their place in relation to a much larger world and the sacrifices that many have made before them. My students need to know that this ancient history sits at their doorstep as a constant reminder of who and what they are today and what shapes their world. All of this is not just fluff in a textbook or Wikipedia to be dismissed or ignored because it does not fit neatly into their 21st century, networked, social world. Canadians still join up and go to distant lands and get killed or get maimed and then struggle to come back to this fairy tale-like world and struggle to reintegrate into today’s society in the same way my grandmother could never understand my grandfather and the thing he called “shell shock”. Grandpa was never right after his time spent in a damp and poisoned trench in 1916.

The greatest tragedy today however is that although we have learned to talk a good line with respect to our current military and we know how to put on a good show when the press is watching; we are treating our soldiers today as disposable characters that are never talked about after we have used their services and destroyed their world and the worlds of their families. We protest pipelines and make a huge show of stupid government decisions on prisons or health care but little is really known or talked about with respect to too many damaged service men and women who return from some far-away place doing a job no one at home really wants to talk about.

John McCrae got it right in his poem “In Flanders Fields”. However what we need to do is re-read this poem and hear it with a fresh understanding of our responsibilities. He states,

Take up our quarrel with the foe

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

I can’t stop the Taliban from fomenting terrible events affecting people elsewhere in the world and my influence with the United Nations is somewhat miniscule. But what I can do is to speak up in my country about the most disgusting treatment afforded Canadian military veterans such as Maj. Mark Douglas Campbell, 47, a 32-year veteran of the Canadian Forces who served in Cyprus, Bosnia and Afghanistan and after being severely wounded in Afghanistan in 2008 was given a paltry financial sum for his efforts and impending life challenges and then shipped off home to fend for himself. Maj. Campbell’s story is just one of many today regarding the men and women who return home damaged from their time spent engaged in wars Canada commits its troops to.

We have broken faith and sadly it appears that “the foe is us”. The enemy is not the Taliban bomb builder (this is another conversation), the enemy is a government who prances around the globe throwing its soldiers into whatever fray happens to serve whatever public policy is the current flavor of the month then ignores and attempts to hide the after effects of the lives of those who willingly stepped forward to participate.

McCrae talked about the pain of breaking faith with those who died. Let us move the meaning of these words slightly further and include the wounded, the shell shocked, the men and women whose lives have been permanently altered as a result of their willingness to step up for this country. How dare we break faith? Remembrance Day is and should be a powerful time for all of us to think about the sacrifices of all who stepped up to do what our country asked of them however November 11 cannot be a solitary day just remembering events from dusty history books. It must be a call to challenge our society to change what is clearly wrong. We must never forget my grandfather and my father and his friends. We must never forget all who laboured to keep and to shape my country into what it is BUT we must be vigilant, we must “take up the quarrel with our foe” otherwise all of this is in vain. Somehow Remembrance Day must help to become a catalyst for change. Bad guys will always surface somewhere in the world and Canada will always find a way to attempt to reach out and help our global neighbours but when all is said and done, how dare we callously dispose of this precious asset, our veterans, those who freely and willingly stepped up to help? Please speak up and let us make the care of returning veterans a priority we never forget. If not, “We (the dead) shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.”

#Kony2012 is trying to get our attention again…

#Kony2012 is trying again. You’ve got to be kidding – didn’t they learn anything the first time round? Well apparently they did but sadly I believe that their intended audiences got beaten up along the way and so this time it will be a bit of an uphill climb in order to get the required traction needed.

Let’s take a little side trip for a moment and talk about the concept of failure. I think that failure is only failure when there is no learning. We can trip and fall on our faces and make a large or small mess but if we learn something and evolve and became better at what it was we were trying to do in the first place then this is NOT failure. Failure is when one cannot, one will not, or one is unable to see what has transpired and thus there is no change and no learning. Vision plays a huge part in this process. Failure is mostly a conscious act although I do wonder at times if there are some circumstances where it is just plain impossible to learn and to change but I don’t think I want to go there at the moment. #Kony2012 was not and is not a failure. To suggest otherwise might create the impression that one lacks a level of personal vision or at least an inability to have seen the original vision.

I do not pretend to be an illuminated visionary but I am a baby-boomer whose passion and wonderful naivety about the potential for my world has never been lost. I may have allowed aspects of it to go to sleep, I may have wandered off and become a suit and did things that my society desired of me as useful and meaningful for the time, but my passionate DNA that came alive as a late 60’s teenager and young adult was excitedly reignited again when I first saw the March 5, 2012 #Kony2012 YouTube. I was entranced by the whole idea presented, not just the “Get Kony” aspect of the campaign but I felt I saw a phenomenal idea and an innovative concept for global communication and participation and I got excited and I shared my feelings with friends and others (Blog postings 1, 2, 3, 4).

There was no way anyone could have imagined what happened as a result of the airing of the #Kony2012, March 5 video: the excitement, the attention, and then the amazingly ugly backlash. I am still so very saddened by the nasty cynicism expressed by so many and the way that this cynicism was threaded into our daily diet of crap pabulum fed to the masses by a crass corporate agenda. Unfortunately no one could have foreseen the effects of this video. It was so unique and so publicly and glaringly personal on a global scale.

Why couldn’t we have allowed this somewhat naïve but fresh, innovative, and passionate group of individuals an opportunity to try out their global experiment? Why did we have to go out of our way to trash something so delicate and fabulously innocent? Of course there are real conspiracies and public projects that have rich and sinister undertones and hidden agendas but why couldn’t we globally believe that there was a group of individuals who really had no other agenda than to do what they claim in their brilliantly crafted set of videos? Why do we rather destroy and trash rather than support or at least stand aside and allow things to play out? The attempt to create a global public conversation about something that should have spoken to the rich part of all of our hearts got lost. It got lost in many ways because the #Kony2012 organization did not and could not have had any way to have prepared to handle the global response to their message and thus they appeared to be everything their detractors claimed they were. The #Kony2012 organization and their precious message became fodder in blood infested shark waters and for a long time all anyone could see was an ugly train wreck.

I live in a world where I believe in the goodness of humankind. I am not so naïve as to ignore the existence of bad and evil intent but I move forward every day with a sensory barometer and a good-first attitude about those I encounter and the ideas I am presented with. #Kony2012 is an idea worth keeping alive and worth supporting. I know that we may have to try and see past the residual damage and find a way to know that this detritus is only an artifact of misunderstanding and misdirection and an artifact we must just walk past. Are there lessons to be learned? Of course there are and one of the biggest lessons is that in this day of ubiquitous, global communication no one can really know the real effect of any of our utterances. All we can really hope for is that we can use this same global ubiquity to observe the impact of the waves we create and know that our message is changing and evolving at every stop along its way. In doing so we have to continue to be creative and innovative and evolve with the shaping of the outcome of our ever-changing message. The matrix of our world today shapes every aspect of our intention and we have to know that intention and reception are shaped by where the receiver sits in the matrix. Can we afford to be everywhere our message is received in order to help ensure it is heard as we intend? Of course not, but we had better have some sense of the receiver’s place or we risk a train wreck the likes of which we saw earlier this year.

I will continue to support #Kony2012 for many reasons not the least of which is that I still believe it is an amazing experiment in global communication and cooperation. Their latest video, albeit a little on the long side, really does show the heart and soul of their intent, and their beliefs, and their vision. This is a global experiment we should embrace and in doing so we must check our cynicism and our crass commercial corporate agendas at the door and join in with our hearts and minds wide open. Maybe then we could allow ourselves to be a part of an amazing global movement that truly changed and enriched all our lives.

Is there not a lot to lose if we do otherwise?

A Canadian Thanksgiving Reflection

Our good friends at Wikipedia tell us that the Canadian Thanksgiving celebration has existed in various forms since the late 1500’s, it moved to being a fall harvest festival in the 1870’s, and finally in 1957 the Federal government passed legislation making the official date the second Monday in October. Not all Canadian jurisdictions recognize this time as an official statutory holiday however this date is deemed to be a national day of Thanksgiving.

So what’s the big deal in this 21st century, urban, globally interconnected world we live in? I would liken Thanksgiving to a purposeful reflection – not necessarily religious but possibly spiritual. Maybe for some this might seem forced (and maybe it is) however the whole idea of a purposeful reflection is that it should allow for a slowing down, it should allow for a time to enable us to look large beyond our daily lives and look small or close at those things which are at our feet and see who we are and where we are in relation to the world and to those around us. When else do we do this?

For example I am thankful that I can quietly sit here in my office on a sunny and warm Sunday and peacefully write this blog. I am also thankful that I am graced with the richness of a loving and supportive wife and family and I am also thankful that I live in a society that is not at war and I do not have to have bars on my windows or live in a guarded compound. I am thankful that my granddaughter can run around and happily play in our neighbourhood without great fear or concern for her well-being. And I am thankful that I have been able to become well educated and be employed in an industry that gives me great freedom of expression and thought and affords me the ability to live well. I am thankful that I have the time to continue to reflect and be challenged and write and work to finish a personal academic goal and ever so thankful that I am surrounded by supportive and caring individuals on this journey.

The list could be endless, however the sheer fact that I have taken the time to write this and reflect as I am writing is truly a gift worth taking the time to be thankful for. What about you?

But Audrey, why does it have to be a side? @hackeducation

Audrey Waters of Hack Education fame wrote in her weekly newsletter an article about the Chicago teachers strike and her tagline asks “Which side are you on?”. I do understand the question and the why of the question but I think that the whole issue becomes so greatly exacerbated by the asking of such a divisive question in the first place. I live in a jurisdiction (British Columbia, Canada) where teacher strikes and similar union issues seem to be everyday occurrences. Political polarization eats us as a society regardless of where you live. I think however that although many of our education issues and concerns are different (to begin with our two countries are culturally different) yet what is not different is that we are so influenced by our close proximity to each other and therefore our reaction to many of the issues and concerns does spill over and we look at our neighbours for encouragement and support. A major difference in the systems is that in the US, K-12 has a national federal connection (Dept of Education) whereas in Canada our federal system plays no part in the K-12 system – it is all controlled by the provinces.

The challenge however is still money and resources and control and curriculum and pedagogy and still all of the problems appear to be forever placed at the feet of the teachers. Teachers in Canada are paid significantly more than their counterparts in the US but from my perspective, apart from salary and a few benefits the woes of failed schooling systems still gets dumped on the lap of the teachers. In Audrey’s newsletter I read about issues of

“education reform”…  [including issues around] more charter schools, fewer unions, less job security for teachers, more standardized testing, and (here’s a particularly big sticking point for the Chicago Teachers Union) using those tests to in turn assess teachers’ performance.

In my local context I hear similar types of issues and I really struggle to understand why the public so quickly chimes in with the “blame the teacher” line and does not appear to care enough to see the bigger issues instead of the wrong-headed political/corporate agendized issues that avoid the real conversation of learning and teaching and of really helping our children. Is it that we just don’t give a damn and think that it is better to hide and hope that someone else can make it right and then I no longer need to be bothered? During a recent teacher’s job action in the spring of this year a young parent was interviewed about the school and teacher situation and when asked what she knew of the issues she responded that she knew nothing and could care less. She stated that all she cared about was whether her child’s school was open and she indicated that she shouldn’t have to take the time to care what the issues were – all she wanted was someone to look after her child.

Ouch – no wonder we have problems. So when you ask what side any one is on I think we all need to ask a whole bunch of other questions first. The Chicago issues are sadly quite American in nature however their potential real solutions are far more global. Stop blaming the teachers. Stop this industrialized testing system that has NO place in our classrooms. Get the corporate bean counters out of the education systems and stop seeing our children as nothing more than widgets to be tamed and shaped into industrial clones. How many times do we have to look at countries such as Finland to see what is right and what works?

It is all about philosophy in the end – Do we dare to continue to ask about taking sides or do we move forward believing that everything is a continuum and that right and wrong and good and bad and my world and your world are all just different perspectives of the same thing. We need to change our outlook and recognize that as long as we push people to take sides they will.