Students’ media carry the message

Posted March 17, 2011 by banderblogger
Categories: Cool, Education

Tags: , ,

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation has a great awards program for students at public high schools in Ontario. Every September the Student Achievement Awards in honour of Marion Drysdale puts out a thoughtful theme for students to ponder. This year’s theme was Become the Solution: Words into Action. Students are then asked to produce a creative piece based on this theme. There are categories in writing, visual art and digital media. Students worked is first judged at the  school level and then, if successful, move on to District, Regional and finally Provincial levels. The eight provincial finalist each win $1000.00 and are brought to Toronto (for the organization’s annual general meeting) to receive their award from the Minister of Education.

Students and their teachers are also filmed talking about their work and how it relates to the theme. The video can be viewed here.

A booklet highlighting the winners work is also produced and be downloaded here.

This is an awesome program for creative high school students and the awards are substantial. If you know a young person who loves to create, send them here to check out the rules and guidelines for next year’s program.

Catholic values vs students’ rights

Posted March 17, 2011 by banderblogger
Categories: Education, Politics

Yet another clash between religion and freedom has occurred at a Catholic high school in Ontario. This time things went down at St. Patrick High School in Thunder Bay on March 10, 2011.

Alexandria Szeglet, a Grade 10 student, attached to her school uniform a piece of green tape with the word “CHOICE” written on it. This was her response to a  number of other students who wore a red piece of tape with “LIFE” printed on it and choose not to speak for the day to as part of an anti-abortion/pro-life event.

Not only did Szeglet wear her green tape pro-choice message, she handed out pieces of the green tape to many other students as well. Szeglet as well as another dozen students were sent home for their actions. The principal of the school, John de Faveri, stated that “the pro-choice students were not appropriate in the context of a Catholic school.”

To read more about the situation, read this article or this one.

Many of my colleagues have speculated about the longevity of the separate school system in Ontario. Those who believe its days are numbered seem to think that it will be an economic reality that will eventually lead to its demise. They believe that during some provincial election far in the future, some party will bravely put forth the issue of the amalgamation of the school systems as a cost-saving measure.

I disagree. While there is certainly some duplication in the administration of the two systems, coterminous school boards are already sharing many resources and have combined for purchase power to the point that much of the savings have already been obtained.

What I believe will be the downfall of the Catholic school system in Ontario will be their individual board’s inability to afford students their basic rights while adhering to the ancient tenets of Roman Catholicism. I don’t see our province’s human rights regressing and I doubt the Catholic church is set to become more progressive in its social views. As this gap continues to widen, Catholic schools are going to struggle to remain relevant and viable in the eyes of the public.

It will be the public’s disgust with the positions and actions of Catholic School Boards that will lead voters to dismiss the separate school system and demand a single, unified one. It won’t be this provincial election, or probably even the next, but the clock is ticking.

Being the new kid in the classroom – a short film

Posted July 7, 2010 by banderblogger
Categories: Community, Education, Video

Tags: , , , , ,

Do you have 10 minutes to spare?

The video below, New Boy, is ten minutes of wonderful story-telling and pure craft.  Based on a short story by one of my favourite authors, Roddy Doyle, the film brings the anxiety of being the new kid in the class to a whole new level.  I love how the teacher unwittingly and unintentionally becomes the solution to the conflict.  The film won many awards including the Best Narrative Short Film at the 2008 Tribeca film festival.

Ten minutes – you won’t be disappointed.

Partisan Politics, Education, and the Ivory Tower

Posted July 7, 2010 by banderblogger
Categories: Education, Politics

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There was a time, as a young teacher, when I believed that academics working in the field of Education based their politics on their personal experience within the Education system.  That is, I thought that after working in and studying Education, those looking down at us lowly teachers from their ivory tower came to their academic conclusions based on their observations and then sided with a political perspective which supported their findings.  I realize now that politics is their initial point of reference for such so-called experts and that Education is merely subject of their gaze.

Case and point: How long have we in Canada heard about how we need to move to a more privatized and competitive schooling system, like the United States?  Charter schools, private schools, voucher systems – these were all supposed to give American kids an advantage over the students on this side of the border.  And – as a bonus – these privatized systems would, incidentally, lower taxes.

But recent results of international testing show Canadian students performing much higher than their American counterparts.  The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), ranked 15 year-old Canadian students fifth out of 57 participating countries when tested for math and science, while American students lagged behind in 32nd place.  Canadian students also proved superior in reading literacy skills.  All this while Canada only spends 3.4% of its GDP on education ($8,169 per student) while the U.S. spends 3.9% ($10,692).

So how do the right-wing edu-pundits respond to this?  In a recent National Post article, they have done an about-face saying that the achievement of Canadian students is due to our country’s competitive and somewhat privatized Education systems.  What???  Suddenly Canada’s Education system is competitive?  Nowhere in the article are there any arguments or explanations demonstrating that our system is truly more privatized or competitive than the American one or that pitting educational systems against one another is good for students.  This is certainly a clear case of right-wing spin.  Not surprising to find in the National Post, but depressing to see nonetheless.

Blue Heron vs. koi . . . don’t bet on the fish

Posted June 29, 2010 by banderblogger
Categories: Desiderata

Tags: , ,

I love all wildlife and living in the centre of a small city I’m usually excited when I see something wild in my backyard.  But you see, I have a koi pond behind my house, so when I saw a great blue heron sitting on my neighbour’s roof the other day, I wasn’t happy.

The timing couldn’t have been worse.  We were just about to leave for a four day camping trip.  The dog was in the kennel and there was no one to watch over the pond.  People came out and gawked at the huge bird that was obviously eyeing my pond.  After a short while, the bird disappeared and I optimistically reasoned that it had flown to the nearby river where fishing might be less of a public spectacle.  Then, as I was packing the car with camping equipment, the bird returned and landed on the fence, a mere few metres from the pond’s edge.  I chased it out of my yard, but it flew around in my head during the whole camping trip.  I dreamed of  returning to an empty pond with fish carcasses strewn across the lawn.

When we actually did return home, the first thing I did was check the pond.  The fish were acting skittish, but everything seemed okay until I noticed one koi floating dead in the reeds.  After netting and examining it, entry and exit wounds made it clear that it had been speared.  I later netted the remaining fish and found them all accounted for, but two had small nick wounds in their sides which led me to believe that it too was the work of the heron.  Damn you heron!

The dead fish wasn’t my nicest or my largest or my oldest, but it was one of the prettier fish in my pond.  I picked it up as a very young fingerling years ago, very cheap, and I thought that it might develop into a Tancho (white koi with a red circle on its head).  After a year or so, it did indeed develop the marks of a Tancho and later its back turned a metallic grey, thus making it a fairly rare Tancho Kujaku koi which, to us koi geeks, is sort of special.

Well, here is the problem with amateur koi keepers: we buy our fish cheap and young, and when they grower older and more sizable, the fish gain in value to an amount that we ourselves would never think of spending on a fish.  To replace this particular koi would probably cost over $400.  And I won’t replace it . . . at least not with a replica.  I do intend to console myself by doing a little koi shopping over the next few weeks.  I’ll leave you with an image of a Tancho Kujaku — not the one I lost, but one pretty much like it.

Taking the classroom outside

Posted June 25, 2010 by banderblogger
Categories: Community, Education, Green

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June is a difficult month for students (and teachers).  Not only is there an increased demand to get assignments submitted and marked, but the warm weather calls, tempting students and teachers alike to move outdoors.  How many times have I had to field the question, “Can we have class outside today?”  Really?  Class outside?  Come on — that’s something that is not going to end well.

Although I have had students perform outdoor theatre and I have taken leadership students on camping trips, could a typical day-to-day lesson actually be facilitated outside?  Well tire manufacturer Bridgestone Canada and not-for-profit organization Evergreen have teamed up to provide one Mississagua, Ontario school with an outdoor classroom.

You would think that this was big news but good luck finding any reference to the project on the websites of either Evergreen or Bridgestone or even a local newspaper.  I came across it here, on a trucking news website.  Interesting.

Sarah vs. Sarah

Posted June 24, 2010 by banderblogger
Categories: Music

Tags: , ,

Canada has no shortage of talented chanteuses.  I was interested to hear that both Sarah McLachlan and Sarah Harmer had recently released new albums and I had the sudden urge to pit them against one another.  So this is the Sarah vs. Sarah cage match.  Listen to both releases below and decide for yourself who will be Canada’s last Sarah standing.

Personally, I think Sarah McLachlan has the advantage here.  From her early contributions to Vancouver-based. elctro-industrial band Skinny Puppy, to her 90s fem-a-polooza Lilith Fair, McLachlan has certainly made her mark both in Canada and internationally.  She is also involved in many charitable causes including rights for animals.  She has no trouble getting support, resources, or talent to help her along.

Sarah Harmer, on the other hand, broke out with the fairly obscure Kingston band, Weeping Tile, but is best known for her solo work.  Her last four albums struck a chord with Ontarians but never really sounded outside of Canada.  Her activism is as passionate as McLachlan’s but perhaps on a less public scale.

At the risk of influencing your decision, I have to give it to Sarah Harmer.  Aside from the fact that I am a sucker for any underdog, I think that Harmer stretches further this time.  Perhaps McLachlan is catering to her established audience, but to me she is singing the same old, same old.  Harmer is pushing herself into a new realm and bravely experimenting.  I expect that I will hear many more tracks from Mclachlan’s new album, but I am looking forward to listening to more of Sarah Harmer.