Thursday, 10 May 2018

Doorways of Puebla

Through the doorways of Puebla
you see
stately courtyards
tinkling fountains
newspapers waiting to be delivered
factories and workshops and shops
children playing
a grandmother on her way to the market
a line of laundry
a man buying a hat
a blushing bride

a band rehearsing
a couple deep in conversation
a family enjoying a meal
kids practicing for a parade
the dress you waited your whole life to wear
a man changing a tire

Through the doorways of Puebla

You see 


You see life.

Friday, 27 April 2018

The time I got up early to say goodbye

As you head into retirement, it's hard not to think about your career. So many memories.

The time I started as a marker. My first memory was of how poorly paid I was. I drove all the way to Barrhead at my own expense to complain about the lack of money I was getting. The irony is not lost on me. I then applied for a teaching job writing course materials for English under Chris's leadership. After writing English 13 and 33, someone phoned and said he had been told to tell me to apply to teach Social. 

The time I co-wrote an English course with a marvelous seasoned teacher, Marvin. Marvin and I convinced our bosses we should create both online and print courses, moving away from the old model where DLRB- a government branch, at times far distanced from recent classroom instruction-wrote the course materials. It was a pioneering move to create print and online courses that mirrored one another and it was great fun to work side by side with this wise and innovative teacher. I went on to English 20-1 online, creating course content and marking student work for a hand-selected bunch of kids. To this day, I think that was the best course I ever wrote as I was so aware of the impact of each lesson. 

The time my family went to Vietnam for summer vacation and Pat insisted you take a whole ton of ADLC materials, paper, pencils and more to give to the kids over there.

The time Michelle and Danielle and I started some kind of crazy club called "OLE". We held dress up days - my favourite being "Pyjama Day" where kids were supposed to email us pictures of themselves in their PJs. An in-joke based on the misconception that all telecommuters spend the whole day in their pyjamas. I also started a book club with kids aged 12-18.  Kids voted for a book, we all read it and then we met on Fridays via Centra Symposium to discuss. We had a Christmas party where I posted lyrics to Christmas songs on the whiteboard and everyone sang their hearts out in the privacy of their own homes. Cameron (now an astrophysicist with a PhD from the Netherlands) was taking German and asked if he could sing "Silent Night" which he performed impressively in a deep man-voice. This same group of kids, a year or so later, decided they wanted to do a real time campout. By now, most of them were in grade 11 and their parents were going with them, but they needed someone to pay the campground deposit which I volunteered to do. I was re-reimbursed and they all had a wonderful time but I did get a slap down from Pat for getting involved in an unsanctioned event at which no teacher was present. 

The time I sent an email to All Staff saying there were fresh cookies at my desk and a new teacher ran all around the office looking for them until someone told her I worked from my home office in Slave Lake.

The time Danielle and Lise and I did a presentation for Online Symposium and then again at teachers' convention. We called it "Traditional Schmaditional- Come See the New Face of Online Learning." We found ourselves all too amusing as we created Powerpoint slides with images of Barbies in many educational poses.  I can honestly say I had more laughs creating that presentation than anyone has a right to on a work day. If I am not mistaken, we might have even worn our PJs when we made that presentation, much to Ralph Helder's embarrassment. However, I also heard him say "when teachers like these come up with ideas-all you can do is stand back and get out of their way."

The time I became a member of the  Provincial Advisory Committee on the new Social curriculum. I knew what was coming and our department convinced the powers that be that we should create our own courses, without a textbook, in time for the official implementation of the new curriculum. We did just that as I searched high and low for great images, videos, maps and other source materials and Diane tried to find someone to sign off on their use. The other teachers in my department graciously took over my class list to allow me the time to write. I was so enthused about this work that I emailed my assessments to teachers across the province, and even now I occasionally find a Social 10-1 assignment on some other school's website, thanks to Course Hero. A year after the course rolled out, we set up meetings with markers and partner teachers in outreach schools. We met as a collaborative group of about 15 teachers and went through the assessments one by one, taking suggestions for improvement.

The time a "formal" tea party was hosted for a retiring boss and one of my colleagues got told he wasn't dressed fancy enough so he made a tie out of construction paper and sat at his desk all afternoon instead of attending the party.

The time I took a secondment with Alberta Ed to help them create provincial materials for Social. This was around 2008. Alberta Ed had never created an online course, apparently believing that online learning was a flashy gimmick that wouldn't catch on. It was not until ADLC and other online schools had been delivering online instruction for nearly a decade that they got on board. Course development meetings had 17 people involved. I drove to Barrhead 34 times that year. Seconded teachers wrote content in MS Word that was converted to PDF, sent to the editor who literally wrote on it with a blue pencil, sent it back to the teacher, who added notes to the PDF- then to a whole other department who converted the document into Front Page. For teachers who worked out of the office, these pages were physically printed off and carried from desk to desk in a metal tray. The fact I could write content myself in Front Page-eliminating three steps in the process- was poo-pooed by the head of development. 

The time I begged to come back to ADLC. Soon I was writing Social 30-1. We had learned a lot about instructional design. By then, many ADLC courses were being created in print and online formats in-house. Our department came up with a brainwave part way through the development- why not make the print and online identical so kids could just move back and forth? This meant that our outstanding DDU person Kelly had to go back and revise the first half of the course, which she did cheerfully and without complaint. We also started using our exceptionally experienced markers to support the course creation. Bob wrote items, Larry wrote automated question feedback, Wayne wrote keys. It was truly a group effort.

The time Randy as department head promoted the idea of blueprinting all our exams and revising them to mirror diplomas. He had to fight for funding for this process, as Jason told him "You guys have had your hand in my pocket long enough!" But Jason caved and the blueprinting took place.

The times I conducted staff polls about provincial and federal election and Olympic projections,almost always won by Bryan.

The time Larry as department head came up with a new idea- one marker per online course. The benefits to students and teachers were substantial. He played with numbers till he got something workable. Lo and behold if that idea did not bear fruit, with completions increasing something like 11 to 18 % depending on the course.

The time I sat on the KSAs of an Online Teacher Committee where Pat, Pat, Patti, Alanna, Barb and others had so many deep conversations as we tried to translate the document which was devised for classroom teachers into distance ed language.

Most recently, the Social department piloted the "no marker" model. Many lessons were learned in this experiment. And now ADLC finds itself moving headlong into a school-wide implementation of this model, the implications of which have not been fully explored. 

As I look back at what was supposed to be a summary of my time at ADLC, the one thing that comes through is that none of these things could have happened without a team of people pulling together. Teachers, support staff, tech support, partners, markers and administrators, all working together in the best interests of our students. ADLC, from the very first day I began work, has been a team and I feel privileged that I have been a part of it. As Lise said last week, "We have had an amazing run."

Truly, the best of times.
On my very first day at work nearly 20 years ago, there was a luncheon for a retiring teacher who had spent his life in distance education and had brought in many innovations.

I felt weird going to his luncheon since I didn't know him. 

But as he talked about ADLC, he very graciously mentioned ME as the most recently hired person. Someone who would carry the torch forward. I always thought that when I retired, I would mention the people who had just been hired. I was excited to pass the torch to Jennifer, Wayne, Nicole and Corvin, our most recent Social Studies hires. I knew they would move ADLC forward with their own brand of creativity, compassion, innovation and professionalism.  

That was not to be.

I can only hope that as ADLC moves on, teachers and support staff will be allowed to innovate and create and experiment. That they will wake up every morning excited to start work. That they will move forward, knowing they are part of something that matters in this province.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Institutional Memory

The staff of the Alberta Correspondence School, 1942
Distance education was an early vision of the Alberta government. In 1921 the government realized many students in the province did not have access to an education. In 1923 the Alberta Correspondence School Branch was formed to serve rural students, kids who were housebound, and adults looking to upgrade their education. That vision has been the cornerstone of distributed learning in its many forms for the past 95 years as teachers and support staff strive to provide equality of educational opportunity to all Albertan students, regardless of their location and environment. 

The first director of the Correspondence Branch was Elizabeth Sievwright who worked out of a tiny office in the back room in the legislature, making up her own lessons and mailing them out. In its first two months, 100 families requested lessons. Five years later, there were over 1000 students. In the 1940s, lessons were broadcast over CKUA radio. By the 1970s, some lessons were broadcast over ACCESS Television. For decades, teachers and support staff -working for the government- created the resources students used to learn at a distance and through which they were assessed. Assessment of student work largely fell to contracted teachers who worked from home.

In 1980, as part of a larger government plan to relocate government services to rural communities, Premier Peter Lougheed's government announced that the correspondence school would move to Barrhead where the province commissioned a new building that opened its doors in 1983. At the time, dozens of employees who had previously worked in Edmonton were forced to relocate. For a time, many of them commuted by van to Barrhead every day. Eventually, many sold their homes in Edmonton at a loss- due to the economic downturn at the time- to buy homes in the Barrhead area. This provided a boost to the Barrhead economy and over the next four years, the population of Barrhead increased from 3500 to 4000 people. Even the post office expanded to deal with the anticipated increase in lessons coming and going. Meanwhile the Edmonton office remained open, receiving a great deal of foot traffic. It moved to an office in Harley Court, then to the Devonian Building, and then back to Harley Court.

In 1991 this government funded programme, operated largely by trained teachers working under government contracts, was renamed Alberta Distance Learning Centre to reflect the modernization of delivery.

In 1991 this government funded programme, operated largely by trained teachers working under government contracts, was renamed Alberta Distance Learning Centre to reflect the modernization of delivery.

In 1996, Pembina Hills School Division, with its central office in Barrhead,  created Vista Virtual School to deliver online education. 

In 1997 ADLC was divested from the government and contracted to Pembina Hills School Division to manage. The creation of print resources was left to the Learning Technology branch (later renamed the Distributed Learning Branch) of Alberta Education, a government department that operated out of the ADLC building in Barrhead. 

In 1998, Vista Virtual had 6 online teachers who worked out of the ADLC office under their own principal. They created their own courses and taught students at a distance using internet technology. Numbers skyrocketed almost immediately. In the fall of 2001, the two programmes began working together to deliver instruction and create courses. The division between Vista Virtual (a school in Pembina Hills Public Schools with its body of students who are not assigned to any other jurisdiction) and ADLC (a provincially mandated school managed through PHPS that delivers instruction to students enrolled through other schools in the province) was blurry for some time until 2004 when a separate assistant principal was brought on. A full-time principal came in not long after and at that time, Vista Virtual students and ADLC students were separated with both schools having their own classlists, administration and teachers- all using the same course materials.
ADLC isn't a school, it's an opportunity. For kids wherever they may be, in location or education, to have a chance at something bigger. (Paul, one of the first students in Alberta to receive the bulk of his education online)
Contract markers continued to be used, both online and print, allowing both Vista Virtual and ADLC to offer students the flexibility of year round instruction and continuous enrollment. A new office was opened in Calgary. The Edmonton office relocated to a new location on Jasper Avenue. In July 1999, ADLC merged with Distance Learning Options South (DLOS) in Lethbridge and DLOS maintained the DLOS financial operations for course materials. By March 2006, DLOS completely dissolved all financial operations and was fully incorporated by ADLC.
ADLC students attending a climate change conference from St. Albert
In 2001, a common English 10-1 was written in both online and print formats by ADLC teachers to roll out in time for the implementation of new curricula-abandoning the tradition of using print courses developed by the government’s Learning Technology Branch which were always a year or more late in production. Soon more and more core and elective courses were developed in-house and shared province wide. In 2006, ADLC began to share online courses to schools across the province via a “team teaching” approach. This allowed partner schools to use ADLC infrastructure and courses to teach their own students- a model of instruction in use by hundreds of schools in Alberta today. In time, the Distributed Learning Branch of Alberta Education, slow to adopt online learning opportunities, ceased to exist and the development of online and print materials for all students in the province became part of the service ADLC’s was contracted to provide to the students of the province.

Today, ADLC has 73 teachers on continuous contract, 21 in Barrhead and 52 elsewhere in the province. Having such a diverse range of teachers ensures that teachers understand the nature of their students because they know the regions and schools where students come from-from First Nations communities, to isolated farms, to small towns to urban centres. Many teachers work from home, allowing them to understand the isolated environment in which many students work. This provincial presence allows ADLC to hire excellent mid-career teachers from across the province-teachers with strong backgrounds in not only classroom instruction, assessment and subject area expertise but also instructional design and distance education pedagogy. ADLC and VV teachers and support staff know that it is possible to teach and learn and work together for a common goal at a distance because they do it every day.

A couple of our excellent support staff at teachers' convention.

According to Socrates, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” Can you really know where you are unless you know where you have come from?

Institutional memory matters. From the very beginning our programme was designed to teach students who do not fit into traditional schools and to help schools offer options for their kids. As our school moves down an uncertain path, knowing who we are and how we got here can be helpful.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Why I won't tell you to go to Egypt

Streets of Cairo

Tour guides and taxi drivers throughout Egypt said "Tell your friends!  Egypt good!  Egypt safe!  Tell your friends - come to Egypt!"

We smiled and nodded. But we didn't mean it.

I will not tell you to go to Egypt.

Truthfully, Egypt is safe. Or at least it seems that way. The unrest following the 2011 revolution has died away. And I never felt as if I was going to be robbed or attacked in our 11 days of independent travel.

I will not tell you to go to Egypt. The sites are amazing, no doubt about it. The pyramids are  spectacular. Abu Simbel is incredible, as are dozens of temples, monuments, tombs and statues. The marvels of an ancient civilization are a wonder to behold.

But Egypt? I've been to more than 50 countries and this is the only one I don't recommend. I won't tell you not to go. But I will not recommend it. Which is very sad. I am not sorry we went and I loved what we saw, but Egypt is a challenge for tourists. 

Every minute of every day you are being harassed.  Not gentle requests or casual questions. Relentless oppressive attacks and "no" is not considered an option.

Tourist on a camel ride
Someone at first appears friendly and just wants to chat, but really, he wants to sell you something, usually something you don't want, at a ridiculous price. There is no humour in these conversations, like the jokiness of a Tijuana street vendor. There is no good-natured back and forth like you might see in Bali or Peru. There is no earnest innocence like I saw in the street children of Cambodia. No. 

Hello, my friend, what country are you from?  Canada? Canada Dry!...My friend, do you need a taxi? A horse carriage? Papyrus? Perfume? A hotel?  Sir? A guide? I will give you good price. Very good price. Best price for you my friend. Why do you walk away? Why are you so rude? I just want to help you!

Every encounter is a negotiation. Nothing has a set price. From the price of a cab, an item in a shop, a bottle of water, the cost of using a toilet. Everything.  Our first and almost last shopping experience is detailed by my husband in his blog. One guy charged me $7 for a small bottle of water and refused to give me change until my husband came into the shop. Another said it was 5 Egyptian pounds to use the toilet, and then suddenly it was 5 each and it wasn't until I demanded he return my money that he let both of us in. One guide told us 150 Egyptian pounds for him to tour us around the Tombs of the Nobles, and when we were done, it was 150 each. We booked a driver from one hotel to the next. The tour was to include visits to as many places as we wanted for the entire afternoon, ending at our next hotel. Just before we arrived at the final stop around 5 pm, another man jumped in the cab, claiming to be the boss of the driver, saying we had taken too long and we had to give him another 150 pounds before he would take us to our hotel.  We booked a cab at the airport from the limo service and suddenly it was another 20 pounds for the parking. You go into a tomb and the "guard" whispers that for a little baksheesh, you can take a photo. If it's not enough, he demands more. A random stranger in traditional dress points out some piece of detail on a hieroglyph and demands you pay him for pointing it out. A guy starts walking beside you, yammering about the site, and expects money.  Another suggests you take a photo of him and expects money for it. Just nonstop. 

Five pounds for this photo
On occasion we saw men almost coming to fisticuffs over a lost fare or a deal gone wrong. I mean, these guys were in each others faces. They were screaming at each other. At one point we were part of a shouting match over who would drive us in their caleche and we had to walk away only to be picked up later by the same caleche where the driver beat his horse and then demanded extra baksheesh for his trouble. The testosterone levels are raging and that seems to be considered normal.

Souk in Edfu
I know these people are poor and they depend on tourism. I appreciate that they may have few other options when it comes to making a living. I know I am a westerner with many advantages and options so I really try not to judge. But I also know my tourist dollar is vital to their economy and it's one reason I like independent travel. By staying in local hotels, eating at local restaurants, hiring local guides, buying local products and supporting local travel agencies we can help infuse money into the local economy. Dozens of countries are in the same situation as Egypt, many of which we have visited. Madagascar, Cambodia, Nepal, Nicaragua and Vietnam are all much poorer than Egypt. We did not witness this behaviour in any of these countries and it seems to me that this aggressive bullying is ineffective over the long term.  We ended up basically buying nothing (and believe me, there were many lovely products to buy and I LOVE shopping!) But the hassle was too much. Looking more big picture, I wonder how many travelers have heard about how tourists are treated in this country and stay away?

Men waiting to sell their goods to the next car of tourists.
Finally, almost all our dealings were with men. We had very few dealings with women. In fact, we did not even see a lot of women. In photo after photo taken along the Nile, in village after village, men and boys were all we saw. Street after street in Aswan, Luxor and Cairo- just men. Maybe if there were women involved, there would be a gentler and more polite approach with greater success. A woman owns the charming Al Moudira Hotel on the West Bank of Luxor and it is wonderful. Suzy was our excellent female guide in Cairo and I highly recommend her.  Women worked in the two excellent Fair Trade, fixed price shops we visited. Other than that, in 11 days, we talked to no women. None. Women rarely work outside the home. They do not work where tourists can see them. No female waitresses, shop clerks, chambermaids, guides, ticket booth operators, drivers or cooks. Are there female lawyers, doctors, soldiers, or engineers? I have no idea. From what we could see, women do not interact with outsiders or men outside the family. In fact, outside Cairo, they are rarely seen. And that is highly troubling.

99% of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed and almost half of all Egyptian men believe they like it. Cairo is considered the most dangerous megacity in the world for women. Not one report of sexual harassment was lodged during Mubarek's reign. Now, while women can report this abuse, those who do are treated like criminals and criticized by family and neighbours, frequently dropping charges. The treatment of women, mostly forms of physical abuse, has resulted in subway cars just for women on the Cairo subway.  One of the drivers we met said his wife was the boss of everything in his house. He found it easier that way, he said to my husband with a rueful chuckle.  Like "Women! Am I right?" Is it any wonder he "allows" his wife to run the household? She so little autonomy outside the home.

Women hoped for great gains after the revolution, at which they were front and centre. But that has not come to pass. Centuries of misogyny is hard to overturn. I try not to judge another nation's way of life, but I struggled in Egypt. I was with my husband. I tried to keep my head down, didn't look any man in the eye, and pretended to be invisible. My one attempt to act more like a western woman was to swim in the rooftop pool at the Fairmount Nile City where I was rudely stared at in my modest swimsuit. That is not the kind of country I want to spend time in, nor do I want to support it with my tourist dollar.  

So Egypt. I'm not recommending travel to your nation, despite the ancient wonders and the lovely people who do not work in tourism. It's not a pleasant place for a holiday. It is not a good place to be a woman.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Oh Egypt

Oh Egypt.

Land of antiquities.

Glorious Pharoahs, entombed in gold sarcophagi.

Tutankhamen, Khufu, Ramses.

Powerful female pharaohs

Cleopatra, Nefertiti, Hatshepsut.

Oh Egypt.

Where are your women now?

Harassed, abused, ignored. 

Almost invisible. 


Oh Egypt.

Glorious empire, millennia in the making.

Your history written on the land. 

In your valleys and deserts.

In your tombs and temples.

In your pyramids and pillars.

Your stories told in hieroglyphs and statues.

Your treasures buried deep.

Your mysteries covered in sand and water.



Oh Egypt. 

What is your history worth now?

"Shhh...take photo? Don't tell anyone! Just a little money!"

"I found this roman coin this morning. Just $300."

"Ride my camel to see all nine pyramids! Special price for you my friend."

Your economy based on history, desperation making history nothing but a commodity.

The sun set on your empire.

An empire we must narrow our eyes to see.

Friday, 9 February 2018


The pain visits you like an old friend.

The oldest of friends.

The friend who knows all your secrets. All your weaknesses. All your old wounds. 

The friend who knows just where to put the knife, how far to thrust it in, how much to twist.

Each jab at once familiar and surprising.

Each jab a betrayal.

Your body, reminding you, that one day it too will let you down.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Cheating Students

I came across this website called "Course Hero" awhile ago.  While it reports itself as a "tutoring" site, it's really a place where you can buy essays and pay people to answer your math questions.  You can sell your work too, or sell the work of others as one of my teaching colleagues discovered upon finding his entire set of lesson plans. 

Cheating kids. Looking for answers.

We hear about them all the time. We hear about how lazy they are. How they're raised by parents who give them everything and ask for nothing in return.

Yes, I have had students who cheat. There are many ways to cheat these days. That doesn't make it right. I have taught far more who don't cheat and would never consider it. 

But so much rides on "success". Being a student today is a whole lot different than it was when I was a kid.

In his March 18 2016 Walrus article, Pass.Fail, University of PEI Religious Studies professor Ron Srigley discusses students at one of Canada's modern universities. He describes them as "...mostly bored youth who find themselves doing something they neither value nor desire...shrewd managers of their own careers, forced to compromise what is best in themselves—their honesty or character—in order to “make it” in the world we’ve created for them."

I wonder how true that is and why we have a system that asks students to make such compromises.

I started my post secondary education 40 years ago. You needed a 65% average to get into an arts programme. Tuition was $525 a year. I rented a three bedroom house - walking distance from campus- for $415 a month. When I graduated with a four year degree and middling marks, I was offered jobs at places where I hadn't even applied.

Today the mean admission grade for an arts degree is 82%. Government funding for post secondary education has dropped from 84% in 1982 to just over 50% today- resulting in tuition that has increased tenfold since my day while minimum wage has just tripled. It's impossible to find an apartment to rent that doesn't require a full year lease. In my daughter's geophysics graduating class, two people got jobs. She worked her tail off to be one of them.

I loved university life. I made many friends. I joined cool organizations. I had a lot of laughs. When my own kids were ready to start university, I was excited at what it would offer them. They loved learning. They were bright and hopeful and full of potential. Their reality turned out to be something quite different. 

Social life on campus has changed drastically since my time and the time of their grandparents. Nana wistfully asks, "Are you going to Sadie Hawkins?  Have you joined the womens' association?"  "Oh Nana," my kids think.  "It's not like that any more." I ask about residence socials and events. My husband asks about the university bar. "Oh Mom and Dad," they say. "It's not like that any more." With residence government, social events, dances and alcohol all but banned on campus, the sense of university as a community no longer exists. University is a factory to churn out grads, not a fellowship of human beings. 

Students sit in classes of 500 where professors cannot hear students speak. Office hours are so limited there are lineups down the hall so kids can ask the questions they could not ask in the lecture. In fact, between 1990 and 2006, the pupil:instructor ratio has increased by 40%. Full time professors are increasingly replaced by sessional instructors, perhaps resulting in the unacceptable way some behave, such as announcing the name of a failing student in front of an entire class or refusing help in humiliating ways. You're not a person, you're a number and a grade. 

University of Alberta CSIS lecture hall
It's all about where you will fall on the bell curve and what your GPA is. Kids compete for grades. Programmes do not provide a balance so students do not learn about anything outside their immediate area. An engineer just learns about engineering. And so on. My kids studied night and day to keep their GPA up. Because if you aren't succeeding, you just get told to leave.

My two oldest will tell you that they spent the last years of their initial degrees recovering from their first year which they spent in student dorms where the furniture hadn't been replaced since I lived there in the 1970s (deferred maintenance at Canadian universities now stands at 5 billion dollars), where students no longer socialize over dinner but instead pay for meal cards so they can buy overpriced and non-nutritious food. Where students suffering from GI infections were told to go to their rooms and not come out until they were better, where fruit-fly and cockroach infestations were not uncommon, where garbage piled up, where broken bathroom stalls were never fixed. When they moved into rental houses with people they didn't know, it was a relief.

Over the past 10 years, a good $500,000 has been spent on the education of my three children. They lived in crappy shared houses. They ate chickpeas and Subway and cookies from mom. They did not own vehicles. They did not expect to live a luxurious lifestyle. University was a choice and now all three hold good jobs because of their education. But they did not choose the unconscionable treatment they received.

When my eldest was finishing up her first degree, she was asked if she would give back to her alma mater. This was her response
This is not an institution that cares about my education. This is an institution that treats me as a means to an end. If they think they can get something from me, they’ll pry it from me. Are you a great student?’ Here’s some money – keep coming to school here and make sure you do something that will allow us to mention your name in one of our glossy brochures.’ Are you not a great student? ‘Let’s make this whole process of education harder on you by putting you in debt.'
At Canadian universities, more than half of all students report feeling of hopelessness and despair, while 8.5 % have suicidal thoughts. Universities don't ;like to talk about how many suicides take place on their campuses. There were three reported suicides on the U of A in 2015- how many go unreported, we will never know. The response of the institution is more mental health support and even then, students report a six week waiting period to get an assessment. But mental health issues are caused, at least in part, by a broken system. Treatment is a stopgap, not a solution. We can treat the symptoms but until we address the root cause of the disease, the poor mental health of our students will continue.  What are our schools, both secondary and post-secondary, FOR?  'The uplifting of the whole people'? as Henry Marshall Tory wrote. Or to produce cogs in the wheels of our economic machine?

"Whatsoever things are true" Motto of the University of Alberta
I understand that today's kids are competing for fewer and fewer jobs. 
They are growing up in a world of unprecedented inequality.
A world where there are clear winners and losers. 
And no one wants to be a loser. But...
"You said this was going to be the time of my life," a friend's kid said. "You lied."
That is not how it should be. As a teacher and a parent, I have to ask. Who is being cheated?

Thursday, 7 December 2017

This is how I will socially engineer your child


I will make you give your child to me when he is young. When his bones are soft and his heart is open and his thoughts are pure.


I will seat your child sit with other children. Some of these children will be rich. Some will be poor. They will be of all colours and religions. Some will have had every privilege. Some will have struggled to survive every day of their lives. But in my room, no one will be superior to another. And although I cannot make them care about each other, they will.


I will let your children tell their stories. And I will listen to every one. Every story will matter. The stories of those who have lived on this land for tens of thousands of years. The stories of those who arrived yesterday with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The story of each child- a thread in the tapestry that is Canada. They will discover that when all those diverse threads are woven together, Canada will be strong and they will be strong.


Your children will play. They will play with paper and paint and numbers and music and words and colours and things that grow. Together, we will explore the universe with all its wonders and injustices. Your children will play with others. They will play with ideas. They will explore the thoughts of others and their own notions of who they are and what they value and how they should act because of their beliefs.  They will play with ideas about where they will go and who they will become.


In my classroom, your child will dream. She will dream of a world where she is strong and hopeful and resilient and she has a place. She will dream of the world she wants, the world she will help create and change. I will help her make those dreams come true, with your help.

This is how I will socially engineer your child.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Monochronic Teaching in a Polychronic World

I wrote this article in 2007. Is it still true today?

One day my daughter came home from school and watched me at work.

“Why do you always have so many windows open?” she asked.

She wasn’t talking about the glass ones, although she does complain about those being open too. She was talking about my computer. I was marking an online quiz; I had my marks programme open so I could submit a grade; I was using Wikipedia to research a question the assignment had stimulated; my web mail was open so I could hear that tell-tale “ding” of a new message, and I was in the chatroom providing homework help. From my early days as a teacher librarian, through my time as a stay home mom, I’ve been a multi-tasker, usually with a bunch of projects on the go all at once. Some people call this a “polychronic” personality.

Like personalities, cultures are also considered “polychronic” or “monochronic.” People in polychronic cultures think of time as cyclical. They work in a non-linear way with many things happening all at once. They can change plans at a moment’s notice. Time is subordinate to interpersonal relationships. That’s different from a “monochronic” culture that is time-driven, linear and orderly; where lateness and interruptions are not tolerated, and one task is always completed before the next is begun.

Most of today’s schools and classrooms are monochronic. Students must be on time, hand in their work on a prescribed day, and write their exams on a set date. For classroom teachers, classes begin and end at the same time, supervision begins and ends at the same time and the meetings begin but rarely end at the same time. And of course, attendance and marks and professional growth plans must be submitted according to a school, district or government mandated timeline. But our students are living in an increasingly polychronic world. While class is in session, they may be on MSN or YouTube or MySpace or Nexopia or even E-bay. One hand is on their cellphone, waiting for a text message and the other is on their ipod. (Remember, I said I wrote this in 2007! Nexopia! ha!)

Many teachers are not comfortable in this polychronic culture. If students are connected to the globalizing world via technology, are they connected to the classroom? If the world shines brighter to them through the window of the internet, then does the glow of a lesson appear a little dull? If they aren’t listening to teacher’s voice, whose message is being heard? It’s tempting to ban our students’ access to technology by forbidding laptops or web surfing; to ban cellphones and ipods. It’s tempting to shut our students off from their contact with the larger world. It’s tempting to try to force them to live in our monochronic world.

But a culture is not right or wrong. It’s not good or bad in and of itself. As any Canadian knows, even those who believe in pluralism to their core, when cultures come into contact, both challenges and opportunities arise. When monochronic meets polychronic, we can practice cultural imperialism, with the dominant subjugating the minority or we can promote reasonable accommodation to allow each other to flourish.

As our students walk through life with their virtual windows open, they are connected to each other and to the larger world, regardless of time and space. It’s through those windows that they see and are seen. If we close those windows, are we hiding them from the light of day? What could we see if we opened those windows ourselves?

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

When love is not enough

Many years ago my mother had a baby, and that baby was me. My mother loved me with her whole heart.

Then she had a miscarriage.

She and my dad were older. They wanted more children but they were afraid they wouldn't have any.

So they applied to adopt. The social worker asked them if they cared what race the baby was. They hadn't even thought about race. "No," they immediately said. "Why would race matter? We will love this child no matter what."

Not long after my mother had her second child, a charming and smart little Okanagan boy who she loved with all her heart.

Then my mom gave birth to their third child, a boy. And she loved him with her whole heart.

Then came my baby sister, from Tsawout First Nation, a girl who was lively and generous of spirit and my mom loved my sister as much as any mother loved a child.

But the town we lived in was racist in ways we white people didn't even see. While one teacher put my brother on an accelerated math programme until she ran out of worksheets, the next told my mom she was letting him-with his reported IQ of 140- run the projector-because he wasn't clever enough to do math. Another claimed my brother had no friends. Yet after school and weekends and holidays our house was full of little boys- boys he played hockey with and went to cub scouts with and wrestled on the Sunday School floor with. He took a stick to the face in a hockey game when he was a teenager and waited for hours in emergency until his white parents showed up. He argued with a teacher who told him he wasn't an Indian. 

My mother raged and ranted. 

My sister's first teacher insisted she was hyperactive and should be sedated. Other teachers had low expectations of her- she was only a native after all. She was bullied and called a squaw. She was told what saints her parents were for adopting an Indian. Many called them her "foster parents".

Again my mother raged in ways that only a mother can rage. How did people not see the brilliance of her children? How did people not recognize their gifts? 

And time went on and things did not go so well for my brother and sister. Still my mother loved them with her whole heart. She loved them when she told them they were adopted. She loved them when she explained their birth mothers loved them but they were young and couldn't care for them and so they had given them, in love, to a home that could provide them with the things they could not. She loved them when she told them they were of indigenous descent and that was something to be proud of. She loved them when each of them told her, in turn, that they were going to meet their birth mothers. She loved them when each of them moved away to live in the communities that were theirs by birth. She loved them when she met their birth mothers. She never feared they would love her less- only that the families they found would not embrace them.

But day she said to me, "Your dad and I love your brother and sister. When we adopted them, we knew we would love them. And we do. We thought love would be enough to make up for any hardships they had in their early days. We thought love would counteract any problems they might face. But now I see, love is not enough." 

My mother knew, despite the deep and abiding love she had for her children, love was not enough.
Love was not enough to battle racism.
Love was not enough to help them deal with the dichotomy of being First Nations kids raised in a white home.
Love was not enough to make up for years of institutionalized discrimination.
No matter how much she loved them, love was not enough to make up for them being taken from their communities.

My sister says "Love was enough, I was able to come home from the racism and know that I belonged and that I was loved because I was ME." But my mom didn't see it that way.

That is why I am passionate about education for reconciliation. For my brother and sister.  For all the kids who were made to feel small because of the colour of their skin. For all those who felt invisible because their history was not acknowledged. For those who were not allowed to tell their own stories without fear of humiliation. For every kid who grew up believing they were worth less than another. And for my mother. For mistakes that cannot be undone. For unintended consequences. For all those who lived with the guilt of doing the wrong thing for the right reason.