Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lost Generation

This winning student video for a contest run by the AARP was shared with me by a colleague (Dorothy M.) Simple yet effective!

P.S. I am involved in a Writing Project with my board. It runs for 4 sessions with the end goal of publishing a teacher anthology. The idea is that teachers who write and reflect on their own writing will be better teachers of writing. So for the next little while the posts here will be short (yeah!!).

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Handmaid's Tale Challenged

Another book challenge, this time not by one of neighbours to the south but a parent in Toronto. An article, Parent Seeks Ban on Atwood Novel, in the Saturday edition of the Windsor Star caught my eye and I immediately recognized a blog topic.
Apparently, this is not the first time this book, which, by the way, scared the pants off me the first time I read it (and upset me again the second time I read it), has been challenged. According to the article "Margaret Atwood's dystopic novel The Handmaid's Tale was No. 37 last year on the American Library Association's list of most frequently challenged books of the 1990s, but until now there has apparently been no recorded attempt to ban it in Canada."
Ok, I can understand that some people may be offended by the way that fundamentalist religion is portrayed, and that there is some sexual content. But the book has so many jumping off places for critical literacy discussions that it is a great book choice for Grade 12 Academic English.
We're talking about 17 and 18 year olds here, not young adults, but students who have grown up with with music videos, and all kinds of stuff on the Internet and cable/satellite TV. The goings on in Atwood's book are tame by comparison. However, as educators, we always respect the right of a parent of a student under the age of majority to choose what is appropriate for his child. The school, located in the Toronto DSB listened to the father's complaint and "the student was issued Aldous Huxley's Brave New World to read instead and will leave the classroom when Atwood's novel is being discussed." This is a reasonable course of action, one that most schools and teachers have no difficulty in doing. Alternative selections for literature study are always available to students at their request or their parent's.
But that's not good enough for this father. This father not only wants to censor his own kid but he wants to censor everyone's kid. "Unsatisfied with the school's resolution, the student's father then made a formal complaint to the school board, which has passed it along to a review committee for study and recommendation about whether the "learning resource" should be removed from the classroom."

I am always amazed when people do this. And I wonder what drives a person into thinking that he holds the knowledge to determine what is right for everyone, not just his own. Is there something in that book that acts as a mirror and he sees something in himself that he fears being revealed? Is it fear that drives that parent?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sidewalks, Civic Literacy or Character Education?

I live in the Windsor, Ontario area, very close to the most southern spot in Canada (Pelee Island located in Lake Erie is the most southern spot). In fact, where I live is actually south of a good portion of the U.S. (try explaining that to our neighbours in the states without pulling out a map). As a result of our geographic location, we seem to miss really large dumps of snow most of the winter. However for some reason, we got hit over the last 36 hours with over 20 cm of snow.

It snowed all day yesterday, without stop. I was in my glory with snow shovel in hand. I shoveled on at least 4 occasions to keep up with the accumulation. Around 5:30 pm, after my daughter Dana and I shoveled together, we decided to go for a walk - it was one of those days cold enough for snow but not too cold for walking.
We went for a short walk in the neighbourhood. At this hour of the day, not many people had their walks cleaned - in fact we ended up walking on the road for the most part because the snow was so deep on the sidewalk. And that got me thinking.

But let me digress for a bit (I think this whole post is a digression so far - but give me a minute and I'll get to the point of this post). I'm a runner and have been for a number of years. My running partner and I have been running together for over 15 years on a regular basis year round in all kinds of weather conditions. Winter running is always a challenge for us, not because of the cold but because of the sidewalks. I don't know how many times either I or my partner have slipped and almost fallen or have had to go onto the road (which is really risking your life when we run in the winter evenings) because some people don't clean their sidewalks after a snow storm. And some people never do clean them - 2 days later, a week later and the same homes still have an unpassable mess on their sidewalk. So my experiences as an outside winter runner and my walk yesterday got me thinking about civic literacy.

What does it mean to be literate as a member of a community? Well, certainly it includes knowing that if you have a sidewalk in front of your house (or if you are lucky enough to be on a corner with a sidewalk at the front and side of your house), cleaning it after a snow dump. It means other things such as knowing to clean up after your dog (another issue - why do people let their dog do business on the sidewalk and then leave it there for kids walking to and from school to step in?), and respect for your neighbour's property by not throwing garbage on their yard (we have a corner lot and often get empty beer bottles or fast food containers dumped on our yard on Saturday nights in the summer).

But maybe this isn't civic literacy but character education and the trait of empathy - being able to put yourself in the shoes of others. I think that the social upheavals of the 60's and 70's, and the me-generations of the 80's and 90's changed a lot of things - certainly for the better in issues such as women's rights, ethnic and racial rights, and awareness of the environment. However, I think that a lot of things deteriorated - manners, thinking about what's right for the whole not just what's right for the individual, respect, individual accountability. And I think that this lack of empathy, manners and individual accountability explains why we have issues with cyberbullying (and people not cleaning their sidewalks).

As educators, we are now charged with teaching character (something we've always done but now it's officially mandated by the Ministry, like it's something new). So, I'm hoping that in the next decade when our current students become old enough to be homeowners (hopefully by that time the financial messes will be cleaned up), I won't have to worry about uncleaned sidewalks on my runs (or maybe walks by that time).

Images: views from my garage, taken by me on January 11, 2009

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year - Seven Things You Don't Need To Know About Me Poetry Blender
I took some time off from writing this blog - and from reading other blogs and even from my email. I have what pc calls a "love-hate" relationship with my computer and the Internet. I'm somewhat adept (I'm so glad that I have my colleague DP across from my office just in case), but I find that I am still getting overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information and the speed at which new technologies, applications, etc. emerge. Is it just me or do others feel this way?
Anyway, I've gotten re-connected to my PLN over the last couple of days and have been thinking about my first post of the second year into blogging. I know that many bloggers do the inspiring thing (check this one here - it's truly inspiring for teachers) and the resolution thing but that's just not my thing. I could blog about my break and the time spent with my family, or the upcoming Christmas celebrations that are coming (I'm Serbian Orthodox Christian and we observe Christmas on Jan 7 according to the Julian calendar. as a result I don't start shopping until Dec 26). I could blog about how I have a love-hate relationship with this blog and how it's made me aware of how I write (badly - at least that's what my grade 13 English teacher told me and I have no evidence that I'm any better) and how the writing process works for me. But I've been reading a number of posts from a number of bloggers whom I follow about 7 Things You Don't Want to Know About Me and have decided to take pc's open meme tag challenge. So without further ramblings here they are:

  1. Before I became a school teacher, I taught childbirth education classes and acted as a doula for women in labour. This came about as a result my own natural childbirth experiences with my first and second children and the home birth of my third. I considered becoming a midwife but unfortunately the timing was off - midwives were not regulated in Ontario at the time and there were no education programs available (however my sister, who attended the home birth of my third when she was 17, is a midwife).
  2. I have competed in triathlons, a couple of half marathons and a relay marathon. I started competing in my 40's but may have to slow down/stop in my fifties because my knees are getting wonky ( I have a torn ALC and meniscus in one knee and the other knee started acting up over the holidays for no good reason I could see. Maybe it was the Zumba class?).
  3. I hate housework with a passion, but give me a lawnmower or a snow shovel and I'll work all day.
  4. I have a tendency to read books over and over again. In fact, I spent this break re-reading Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series for the the fifth time. I always find something that I've missed in previous readings - I think it's because when reading for pleasure I read really quickly and have a tendency to skip over sentences and long descriptive passages.
  5. I always said that my dream job would be half-time library and half-time HPE. I guess I'm living my dream.
  6. I am becoming a yoga freak. I started it because I was experiencing pain during my runs. Yoga fixed that within a week. Now I'm sticking to it because I'm burnt out from lifting weights. I see myself as a yoga instructor in the future.
  7. I was a provincial synchronized swimming champion (back in the 70's). If you think synchro is a fluff sport try running, walking, aerobics (or what ever it is you do to get your heart rate up) while holding your breath for 1 minute intervals - oh and do it upside down!
Back to work on Monday. Hope your new year goes well!