Sunday, 1 November 2015

Between Thanksgiving and Remembrance

I had a busy week or two. Alberta Showcase followed immediately by the BlendED Symposium, work, a trip to the hospital, a trip to the city. Somewhere in there, the federal election, the news my MLA had been appointed Minister of Municipal Affairs, and the Alberta budget.

Alberta Showcase is a ton of fun. Arts presenters from all over Alberta listen to Canadian performing artists, attend workshops and network with other presenting groups, both volunteer and professional. Our team of Stage North volunteers were there in force, listening, comparing notes, schmoozing with musicians and agents and (because after all they are Slave Lakers) downing the odd shooter. Until I got involved with this organization I had no idea that there so much talent across Canada. The quality of musicians we have selected via the Arts Touring Alliance of Alberta is astounding and we have been able to increase attendance at our concerts from 40 to 200.

Immediately following Showcase I presented at the BlendED Symposium, speaking with the very lame title "It takes a person to personalize learning." Those involved in online education know that there are many corporations out there vying for the education dollar under the idea that by using algorithms, they can "personalize" instruction and assessment for students so they can learn.  My premise is that it takes a human being to engage students in their learning.  I've been working online for 16 years. It was cool to see some younger teachers embrace the use of innovative forms of education to reach their students.

A couple of days getting caught up at work, and then I had the occasion  seek some medical treatment at my local hospital which is a well run place filled with professional, businesslike people providing service with a smile to their patients right in the midst of a major clinic move.

Then to the city to do some shopping with my daughter, see a movie and have dinner with my mother in law.

On the way home, the grey skies turned to rain and then sleet and then snow. The dismal season is upon us. With thanksgiving well behind us, the leaves gone from the trees, the colour gone from the grass, and Hallowe'en over for another year, it is bleak.

My dad's log book and medals including DFC
The next non-work day is Remembrance Day, a time to think of those who sacrificed their lives for our country. It never seems right to decorate the house or celebrate during this dreary time. Instead, I always feel this time of year is in a holding pattern, a time to reflect on what it means to be a Canadian. To ponder just what it was my grandfather and father and other young men and women risked their lives for.  Is this Canada the one they were fighting for?

My experiences last week tell me YES!

First, culture. Isn't it incredible that we live in a country and a province where we are free to enjoy the arts? The arts that bring colour and life and meaning to our world? And the leisure time to do so? The Alberta Arts Touring Alliance receives funding from the government and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts provides our concert series with roughly $5000 per year which allows us to make our performances affordable for all. And this funding is passed on to the musicians who in turn make our lives better.

Second, public education. Not long before I submitted my proposal for the BlendED conference, I heard a podcast on This American Life called "Three Miles".  This was a tragic tale of a gifted student who attended public school in a poor neighbourhood. She had a bright future and a scholarship ahead of her. Then she took part in an exchange with a wealthy private school. The injustice deeply affected her and she quit school. As a teacher and a parent I was greatly moved by this expose of the heartbreaking injustices of the U.S. school system. Our Canadian education system provides opportunities to kids from all walks of life, with disabilities and personal issues. I work with kids with unique challenges every day. My dad and men like him fought for equality of opportunity. I am proud to be part of a publicly funded education system where teachers provide innovative solutions to help all students reach their potential regardless of income level or the neighbourhood they live in.

Third, health care. Our health care system in Slave Lake has gone through many trials and a high turn over of doctors. But I think we have turned the corner. And I love that I can enter a clinic or an emergency room right here in my little northern town and receive excellent treatment and it doesn't cost me one nickel. That is something every Canadian should be proud of.

Pensions. We had a nice visit with my mother in law over the weekend. She's in her mid eighties and lives in her own immaculate home where she is pleased as can be to cook up what she calls a traditional "ethnic dinner" of roast beef and yorkshire pudding for her grandkids. And she can do that because she receives an adequate pension to live on thanks to unionized workers and federal pension funds supported by Canadian tax dollars.

The time between Thanksgiving Day and Remembrance Day is a time for for reflection on what it means to be Canadian. I thank you, Canadians who went before. Thank you for fighting for what really matters. Thank you for the progressive and forward-thinking nation you helped create.

This Remembrance Day, I will remember and give thanks.

My grandfather George Martin, centre.