Royan’s Delemma

This post originally published on Dusty World, Thursday, 18 July 2013

Royan Lee’s Spicy Learning Blog (it’s in my list of favourites on the side of Dusty World), asks some hard questions as digital technology matures and reaches mass appeal…

“How are we going to do this, folks? How will we foster critical mindsets of what it means to check that I Agree button, especially in regards to students that are in our charge but not our own children?”


My response…

There is something about mass adoption that shifts a market from focusing on literate early adopters to the willfully ignorant masses.  When the herd finally adopts a technology it becomes a race to reach the widest range of people (including the lowest denominator).

When they started manufacturing automobiles in the early 1900s each one was hand crafted, almost unique and required either your own personal mechanic or you were the mechanic.  As automobiles became more popular, the landscape changed, systems became synchronized, the car became a cookie cuttered piece of mass assembly designed in more complicated ways to ask less of the driver – the only sense of individuality was found in the frantic marketing.  The technology itself matured into operator simplicity in order to get even the most incompetent people behind the wheel.

saganquoteSound familiar Microsoft?  Google?  Apple?  Fanboy/girlism is one of the clearest signs that we’ve moved past the early adopter stance on digital technology and are now catering to the main stream (I say that in the most derogatory way possible) where marketing dictates sales because the majority of people have no idea how the technology works.  It’s in this environment that giant legal documents creep in to user agreements and business finds more insidious ways to make use of the ignorant consumer.

If you look at owner’s manuals from long ago they were full of technological information on how the product worked (so you could fix it).  Nowadays you get legalese and idiot diagrams designed to hide the inner workings.  The machines themselves are even put together intentionally to prevent you from repairing them.

http://thebikeshed.cc/2013/12/10/christians-exesor/
Most mechanical sub cultures survive and thrive on a hands-on ethos. Shed Built motorbikes in the current custom scene are a badge of pride.

The only real way to save yourself from the vapid consumerism and accompanying ignorance that drives mass adoption is through the hacking ethos of maker culture; this has never died.  Cars are being stamped out for the unwashed masses by multi-nationals but there has always been a thriving underground of maker/hackers who ignore the rules designed for the ignorant and come to relate to the technology in a direct, more complete way.

If you want to save yourself and your students from this ignorant, consumerist relationship with technology then find their inner hacker!  Get into the nuts and bolts and bend technology to your will.  Using your hands and your head to get inside the machines sold to us frees you from the consumerist trap.  Freedom is only a hack away!

 

Some reading to save your mind:
www.matthewbcrawford.com/  a brilliant, modern attack on consumerist thinking and the power of your hands to save you

… and the follow up:  www.matthewbcrawford.com/new-page-1-1/
I used to have links to the maker manifesto here but evidently it’s been turned into a book and isn’t available online any more.  That says something about the current state of the maker movement…

Don’t give up!  Just don’t follow the road more travelled, even if it’s paved for you by people determined to monetize you…

MediaSmarts: Battling Consumerism




Bikers & Motorcyclists

Bikers

 The other week I posted a discussion on the Concours Owners Group asking how to pass a large group of bikers on the road.  That discussion sparked an angry rebuttal condemning me for mocking the happy pirate look that a large portion of the (especially) North American motorcycle community identifies with.  Personally, I’d say people can dress however they want and ride whatever they want, but I get the sense that the pirate types don’t feel that way.  On COG I was trying to be funny, but with an edge.  On the Georgian Bay circumnavigation I ran into some corporately attired Harley riders who wanted to point out how much unlike them I looked.  It felt like hazing with the intent of getting me to look like a proper biker.  Nothing will get my back up faster than someone telling me I have conform to their standard, especially when it’s a stupid standard.  The irony wasn’t lost on me that these rebels without a clue whose look is predicated on nonconformity were uncomfortable with a motorcyclist not in proper uniform.

 One of the reasons I make a point of reading British biking magazines is because they are free of (and willing to make fun of) this dominant North American biking culture.  They don’t worship Harley Davidson as the one and only motor company, and they try to look at the breadth of motorbiking rather than forcing a single version of it down everyone’s throats.  Had I the boat load of money that they cost I would happily buy an HD V-Rod (not considered a ‘real’ Harley by purists because it’s liquid cooled).  It’s a fine machine and I’d get one for that reason, but I don’t think I’d ever buy a motorcycle because of the manufacturer alone, I’m not that politically driven.

When I first started riding I was shiny and new about it and told one of my colleagues who rode that I was just starting out.  He asked me what I got and when I told him a Ninja he put his nose in the air and said, “hmm, isn’t that like riding tupperware?”  Just recently I told him I was thinking about getting a dual sport.  He said, “why would you want that?  It’d be like riding a toolbox!”  In the biker ethos there is only one kind of bike with a single aesthetic. If you don’t conform expect criticism.

In talking to other motorcyclists I’ve noticed a consensus that the cruiser crowd tends to be holier-than-thou, not returning a wave or giving you the gears at a stop for not conforming to the dress code.  Motorcyclists tend to be iconoclasts.  They have to be or they’d be doing what everyone else does – riding around in the biggest cage they could afford.  Yet the act of riding isn’t enough for some.  There are also social expectations that these rebellious non-conformists expect all riders to conform to.

At the end of the day I’m a fan of two wheeling.  I’d call myself a motorcyclist.  I get as excited about looking at historical Harleys as I do at racing tupperware or riding toolboxes.  I only wish more bikers would be less critical of anything other than their singular view of the sport.  I refuse to conform to their nonconformity.

Motorbike Dreams

The first motorcycle dream I had was barely remembered, but I woke up pulling hard on the brake with my hand instead of using my foot.  I’ve had driving dreams for years, but I can clearly remember that first time I woke up aware of operating a bike in my dreams.  I can’t remember the context, but it was nice to know my subconscious was working over the details of riding as much as my conscious mind was.

The other day while home from work sick with the flu I woke up from a much more complex dream.  In it I was trapped in a parking lot after trying all sorts of vehicular attempts to drive past customs in order to leave (I’d just been to The States, so perhaps that’s why I had borders on my mind).

I found the Concours sitting on some shipping containers at the back of the lot and suddenly I’m riding it like a trials bike, jumping down from one container to the next until I get down and am able to escape from the parking lot.  Cars couldn’t get me out of there but my bike could!

Strangely, I can’t recall dreaming about the Ninja, though I spent a lot of time turning it blue again.  Maybe the soul of the machine isn’t in the finish.  I’ve spent a lot more time deep inside the Connie getting it road worthy, perhaps that time has endeared it to me.  In any case, I feel a kinship to the Connie that I haven’t with the Ninja, which makes me look forward to the end of the cold even more.

I was originally thinking about where to get Kawasaki stickers once I’ve got it refinished, but now I’m thinking of finding some Corellian Engineering Corporation stickers and doing the Concours up in full Millennium Falcon style.

From the documentary:  Why We Ride



The Tyranny of Collaboration

I was talking to a digital native the other day in English class about Shakespeare.  This particular Millennial is a top 5%er who will go on to do great things.  She was wondering who the people who wrote Shakespeare were.  I was surprised at the question as I’ve always thought one person wrote Shakespeare.  I even have trouble with the classist conspiracy types who think an actor couldn’t be that smart so a noble must have done it.  Having read a lot of Shakespeare (all of it actually) over decades, I know his voice, and it isn’t a voice by committee; that kind of brilliance doesn’t happen around a meeting table.

I thought it interesting that the Millennial mind assumes collaboration, infecting her own generation’s constant interaction across history.  The internet has turned the digital natives who live in it into a hive mind.  They can’t form an opinion without socializing or turning to the internet for information. Their waking lives are awash in constant communication.  They describe moments ‘trapped’ in their own mind when they are unplugged as boring.

The modern mind is open in a way that someone from 20 years ago, let alone 400 years ago, would find alarming. Our marvellous information revolution has not only made our data public, it is also changing what we think we are individually capable of.  Needless to say, if we start thinking that individual genius can’t happen in the quiet of our own minds, it won’t.

A smart, capable digital native can’t conceive of a single mind being capable of producing great works, they must be the result of never ending communication and collaboration.  A couple of centuries from now people who have been immersed in digital communications for generations will wander around The Van Gogh Museum or read Macbeth and think that people from back then must have been mental giants to do these things alone, that or they’ll reinvent history as each age does, in its own image, seeing collaboration and minds peeled open under a barrage of constant communication where none were.

Education hops on the back of this communication revolution (flood?) and has integrated collaboration into just about every aspect of learning.  Leveraging technology to find new and exciting ways of collaborating is one of the pillars of early Twenty-First Century education.  Students have lost the idea of personal mind-space thanks to current communications habits.  The classroom, one of the last places where a student might find privacy in their own heads has been crushed under the weight of expectations from this social shift.  Much of this is shrouded in talk of engagement and preparing students for the modern world.  I just hope that preparation has real advantages for the student in terms of personal development.  I’m starting to doubt that.

Brainstorming about the advantages of deep thinking in your own head – from an ENG3u class two years ago…



We Live in the Future! Motorcycle Gadgetry

This nice bit of graphic design caught my eye.  The Tomtom GPS system is uniquely suited to motorcycling.  It’s waterproof, bar mounted and offers some smart software that is motorbiking specific – like find the windiest route between here and there.

A weatherproof GPS that could be easily accessed with a gloved hand while on the bike is a prudent safety decision.  Instead of trying to look at maps on the tankbag I could be using the corner of my eye to follow a route.  I’m a fan! 

As if the Tomtom wasn’t enough, I then came across the 360Fly.  I’ve been GoPro fixated since they first came out, and tried other action cameras, but this is something else.

The 360Fly isn’t just an action camera, it’s an immersive video recorder, making 360° video that you can pan through as you watch it.  There is no cropping with this camera, it’s like you can turn your head within the recording!  The video becomes a complete record of what happens instead of just what the camera is pointed at.

I can’t wait to try this on a motorcycle!

Lessons From Skills Canada

Originally published April, 2012 on Dusty World (and the precursor to many more Skills Ontario posts)…

Friday I chaired the video creation Skills Canada regional competition in Guelph.  Ours was a competitive division with five teams who had to film, edit and post-produce a pre-planned thirty second ad in four hours.  Only three teams could place and only the top team could move on to the provincial competition.

Some observations stood out:

  • The hard deadlines came as a shock to many of the students, who aren’t used to them any more (we don’t really require hard deadlines in class any more)
  • The competitive nature of the competition concerned a number of the teams, who couldn’t comprehend being allowed to lose in school (we don’t really integrate competitive winning and losing in class any more)
  • The sense of satisfaction that resulted from getting a quality piece of work done in the time given surprised many of the students (we don’t really allow students to develop a sense of satisfaction from completing work on time – on the contrary, a number of students recently told me at parent teacher interviews that they are sick and tired of knocking themselves out to complete work by deadlines only to see slack and idle students hand in the same thing whenever they get around to it).
  • At the rewards ceremony many of the students were at a loss as to how to act when they’d won (stony faced and blankly indifferent were the norm, broken up by the odd grin).  They were also unable to recognize what losing gracefully looked like.
  • In the automotive technology section the announcer said, “congratulations gentlemen” only to realize that one of the gold medallist was female (from our school!) and back pedal.   If we’re going to break the gender assumptions around skilled trades, it starts here (and is).
  • Skills Canada has reinforced for me (yet again) that media arts isn’t an arts course so much as it’s a technical skills course that includes artistic input (like carpentry).  We just got rather brutally cut for new students while being administered by the fine arts department, I think in great part because what we’re teaching is being administered by a department that doesn’t know how to present us or what to do with us.
Skills Canada is a wonderful program that empowers students to embrace their passions in the skilled trades.  Often looked down upon by the academically prejudiced teachers (all university grads deeply ingrained in academia), many of these students with smart hands and kinesthetically focused minds look like failures to the pen & paper classroom teacher.
Our school is fortunate to have a busy and wide ranging technology department with many course options.  Those hands-smart, kinesthetic thinkers must suffer in smaller schools full of class rooms and little else.
Having participated in Skills Canada for two years now, I’m a fan.  I plan to encourage our computer engineering students to put their names in for the IT competition, and our media arts students to jump into the crucible, they come out tempered by the experience.
As one of the grade 12s said at the end of the day, “I was put off by the competition and now I’m sorry I never tried this before.  It was a great experience, and a great challenge.  I wish I had a chance to do it again, now that I’ve tried it, I want to do it again better.”  That is the greatest lesson of competition, it clarifies how you can improve in no uncertain terms, and then offers you another chance to show what you know.  Of course, as a senior he won’t be here next year.
I’ve got to find ways to get younger students involved in taking this risk, the rewards are great, and by grade 12 they’ll be weathered veterans who can take a competitive run at the medal stand.  Nothing they do in class helps prepare them for the world they are about to walk out into more.

ECOO 2016 Reflections: maker spaces and iteration

The maker movement isn’t a fad to
engage students.  The people who
believe in it live it.

Back from the 2016 ECOO Conference, I’ve let things mull over for a couple of days before reflecting:  

On maker spaces…

Last year’s conference was very excited about Maker Spaces, and that focus seems to have died down.  To develop meaningful maker spaces means believing in and adopting the thinking behind it.  The people behind the maker movement believe in it passionately, they live it. Education’s ADD means that making was never going to go that far in the classroom.  The moment I heard teachers complaining about the extra work makerspaces created I knew it was doomed.  Most teachers aren’t curious about how things work and don’t want to play with reality, they’re concerned about delivering curriculum.  

I suspect many maker spaces in classrooms have become either dusty corners or play areas.  It was nice to see the monolithic educational system flirt with something as energetic and anarchistic as the maker movement though, even if it was only for a short while.

On Iteration…

This came up a several times in the conference.  A couple of years ago Jaime Cassup gave an impassioned keynote on the value of iteration.  His argument, based on the software industry’s approach to building code, was to fail early and fail often.

This time around Jesse Brown brought it up again, citing Edison’s, I didn’t fail a thousand times, I found a thousand ways that didn’t work quote.  He then (strangely) went on to compare his being let go as a radio broadcaster and lucking in to a tech startup as an example of iteration, which it isn’t.  Doing one thing and then stumbling into something completely unrelated when it ends isn’t iteration.

In education this misunderstanding is rampant.  Good students learn to do what they’re told as efficiently as possible in order to succeed in the classroom (‘lower level’ students are much more willing to take risks – they’re not as invested in the system).  A misunderstanding of iteration is what we use to justify and even encourage failure.   It has become another way to let digital natives’ video-game driven process of learning have its way, but it isn’t very efficient.

There is iteration in the engineering process, but it’s never
a fail early, fail often approach. If you don’t know why you
failed then you shouldn’t be rushing off to fail again.

The other week I gave my grade 12 computer engineers detailed explanations of how to build a network cable, a video showing it being done and then posted wiring diagrams showing the proper order.  The most capable students followed engineering process (a directed iterative process, rather than a random one) and produced working network cables more and more quickly.  The end result was no real cost for me (all my ends and wires were made into functional cables).

The majority of the students, perhaps because they live in our brave new Google world of fail often and fail early, or because people keep misquoting Edison at them, didn’t read the instructions (who does any more, right?) and just started throwing ends on cables, crimping them badly and producing failure after failure.  This is great though because they’re engaged, right?

When I got angry at them they were belligerent in return.  How dare I stifle their creativity!  Unfortunately, I’m not assessing their creativity.  They are trying and that’s all I should be asking for!  I’m not grading them on engagement either.  I have been brandishing the engineering process throughout their careers in computer technology, but these video-game driven iterators think their die early, die often approach in games is perfectly transferable to the real world.  Bafflelingly, many educators are gee-whizzing themselves into this mindset as well.  You’ll quickly find that you run out of budget if you do.

from Blogger ift.tt/2eQcaqx
via IFTTT

What Do You Take With You?

Part 1: What do you take with you into the future?

We live in a time of radical transformative social change. One generation’s experience is markedly different from the next. How we communicate with each other dictates our social structures, and we are in the middle of a communications revolution.  In times like this many traditions and habits fall by the wayside. If you have to cling to an ideal in order to ensure it survives this sort of disruptive evolution, what ideal do you cling to? After hearing a colleague describe themselves as unionist, and experiencing my own fall from grace, union isn’t what I choose to protect at all costs.  In fact, like many other institutions founded at the dawn of industry, unions and local boards are beginning to appear less and less able to deal effectively with our times.

I didn’t become a teacher to support unions, I became a teacher to support educational excellence and hone my profession.  Protecting education means protecting educational workers, but protecting educational workers does not necessarily mean protecting education. I was initially hesitant to become active in my union because of their blanket coverage of all members, regardless of competence. The occupy movement and the radicalization of economics in the past few years pushed me into action; at least unions offered protection from this short sighted narcissism. So many people are happy to give away their rights in order to dream of being rich while being made serfs. My union offered me a political mechanism to fight that idiocy.

I don’t join things easily, I tend to skepticism, but OSSTF claimed moral high ground on so many issues that I couldn’t help but become a believer. What’s not to like about an organization that claims democracy and is founded on the idea that wealth should be fairly divided and members should consider the common good before their own?

When times were good accounts were managed well.  Grievances were dealt with, expectations of the membership were minimal, people focused on the important work at hand. In the past year we’ve come face to face with a government that appears to have no moral centre whatsoever, and a public that is more than willing to be lied to in order to become incensed with us.  The resultant mess has me asking some hard questions about the antiquated organizations involved in our education system.

There is a lot of history tangled up in how we manage education in Ontario, and I don’t think it’s creating a transparent, representative system. We’ve got local boards that don’t actual bargain with their employees anymore, we’ve got local unions that don’t actually bargain for their members anymore, we’ve got a College of Teachers who got chucked into the mix the last time a psychotic government decided to play fast and loose with education, we’ve got a Minister of Education who has more in common with Mussolini than John A. MacDonald, and carnage across the province with strike days, almost strike days, crippled extracurriculars and frustrated citizens on all sides. If you think this has been well managed by any of the combatants involved, you must be crazy. I argue that this is the result of a tangled, historical organizational mess, and it’s time to move Ontario’s education system out of a Victorian mindset.

In what follows I’m considering alternatives that actually protect education workers (what we have now obviously does not), and puts the focus on our profession rather than the antiquated political structures around it.

Part 2: Behind The Times

The stumbling approach to this last round of bargaining suggests that unions are having real trouble dealing with twenty first century realities. From social media causing a surprise grassroots movement that bypassed provincial executive plans to a stubborn refusal to change their ancient communications habits, unions in general and mine in particular have looked like confused Victorian gentlemen at a rave.


Local boards, like union locals are in even more trouble.  They have been made redundant, looking on as the provincial ministry directly bargains with provincial union organizations. There is no local bargaining in Ontario any more. With so many vestigial political interests around the table it’s no wonder that Ontario’s education bargaining has been a mess this year. Perhaps it’s time for a historical cleanup.

I’m now wondering what Ontario education would look like without local political interests like boards and unions, assuming that we can find other ways to protect this vital resource in a centrally bargained environment. The old players certainly aren’t protecting quality of education, in this past round of bargaining they haven’t done anything at all except watch as provincial heavy weights speak over their heads.

This questioning began when @banana29 shared this article that questions the value of unions in Ontario education.  If you can get past Wente’s heavy handed right wing propaganda in the first few paragraphs, the piece asks some hard questions about the role of unions in maintaining status quo in an education system that struggles to keep up with our times. Her intent is to dismantle public education and infect it with market interests (it is the Globe & Mail), my intentions are quite different.

Part 3: Wente Article Response:

Technology In Education and institutional drag

Wente makes some  pretty simplistic arguments for technology in education. If you think Khan Academy is the future of education then you’re about as pedagogically sophisticated as a donkey. Having said that, technological implementation in education has been slowed at every turn by boards and unions, both of whom have frantically told teachers not to use new communications mediums to communicate with and teach students.  Running at the speed of the slowest adopters of technology is no way to run a relevant education system.

Technology being used in classrooms lags years behind what students experience everywhere else, and doesn’t begin to prepare students for the rapidly changing world they are graduating into.  Teachers struggle to engage students on antiquated software and hardware, and no one wants to consider what a teaching job beyond concrete walls looks like. It behooves the unions and boards to keep school in the classroom where the have a lock on how to manage education as a production line. Ask any teacher who has done elearning how their non-standard work hours become a real problem to both boards and unions.

Not only does this luddite thinking infect the classroom, but also the management of both unions and boards.  Communication with members remains firmly stuck in the last century. Video meetings? Shared online resources? Social media? These things are adopted hesitantly or actively discouraged by parochial thinking. Teachers using them then bypass local roadblocks because that is what modern communications are capable of. From unions trying to control a message to boards trying to limit student access to communications – information is flowing around these road blocks on smartphones and social media, yet they don’t realize how irrelevant their control mechanisms have become.

Instead of encouraging teachers to experiment with new technology, local interests tend to parrot panicky, unfounded broadcast media ideas about them. We are ruled by ignorance and paranoia when it comes to technology in education. The question is, how do we create an education system that can experiment and advance at a reasonable rate without being slowed by the insular thinking of its slowest adopters?

Can you protect education without a union?

In spite of its shortcomings Wente’s article did make me wonder, what would education look like in a future without a union/board system?  I speculate on this not as a means to dismantle, demean or weaken the profession. I am under no illusions, teaching needs to be protected from short sighted business-think, but after watching McGuinty’s Liberals gut years of collective bargaining I wonder if unions are the right social mechanism to protect us anymore. Could education prosper and even improve without union/board paradigms?

Centralizing control is happening already. Modern communications will continue to force this change whether unions or boards like it or not.  If we’re going to evolve from a parochial, historically restrained system to something adaptive and forward thinking, we need to think of a new way to organize and manage the vital social service that is education in Ontario.

Part 4: Education: an essential service

Vital is exactly what education is. A first rate education system means that all the other essential services (police, medical, fire) have less to do because the populace isn’t feral and desperate. A properly run education system means the vast majority of the population comes closer to expressing their potential. It means that socioeconomic status isn’t the prime breeder of crime and poor health; failure is less an excuse of circumstance. Good education means less people in jails, greater economic output and interested, active citizens powering our democracy. In this context, how could anyone not see education as an essential service?

Education should be declared an essential service. This automatically guarantees third party arbitrated contracts, which would mean that bargaining isn’t the wild west that it is now, and governments couldn’t simply bypass it with cynical, undemocratic laws like Bill 115. It would also mean that militant unions aren’t necessary because the system in place would be implicitly fairly bargained. 

Arbitrated bargaining would also take the unionized target off teachers’ backs and let them adopt a more professional aspect in the public eye. Education workers would still be protected, but the system itself would be the protection. Depending on militant unions hard bargaining with local boards didn’t work and has evolved into unrepresentative (OECTA) or misrepresentative (OSSTF) provincial bargaining. Our process of bargaining is a broken, divisive, old fashioned habit that antagonizes the general public, vilifies our profession and makes hay for cynical governments.

Part 5: Freeing ourselves from history

local vs. provincial bargaining

When union locals used to bargain individually with their school boards each area’s special interests were baked into contracts. This made sense because of Ontario’s vast size and the unique and isolated nature of its many settlements. If you travel around Ontario now you’ll see the same Justin Bieber haircut everywhere. Clinging to isolationist thinking in an information revolution is asinine. Communities are no longer isolated, they no longer need individual contracts.  If you don’t believe me, believe union provincial executives who (foolishly I think) agreed to align all contracts in the province resulting in this past round of failed provincial negotiations.

The fictional professional association for education professionals
in Ontario (except it shouldn’t be fictional and we shouldn’t be
 running education on socialist ideals, it’s a profession!)


If we can bargain provincially (and it appears we do), why not have an Ontario Educational Association (modeled on the Doctor’s OMA) bring in elected representatives from across the province every four years to iron out a contract with the government while a neutral, third party arbitrator ensures the process is fair. This is a far less dramatic, adversarial process, but I think everyone in education (except the ones who profit from the fighting) would like to see less hurtful public drama and more focus on the profession itself.  

Unions themselves have made their locals irrelevant by focusing their own membership through isolated, politicized provincial leadership. The result has been confusion and a failure to represent member’s interests. OECTA agrees to contracts without even asking its members, OSSTF has the rug pulled out from under it by a grassroots social media movement.  Unions have centralized power and are then astonished when their remote members aren’t thrilled.

It’s time to give up the idea of locally defined educational organizations, both boards and unions, and begin a process of creating a democratic, less politically tangled system of educational representation. This isn’t so much a matter of amalgamating existing districts as it is a rethinking of how best to represent educational interests in the province. A system based on current cultural divisions (rural-natural, rural-agricultural, small town, suburban, urban) would certainly allow us to continue to address regional differences without carrying the weight of a redundant, regionally defined historical system.

how many public school systems do we need?

If we’re trying to free ourselves from history, it wouldn’t hurt to stop funding semi-private, religious schools that are only willing to serve a specific population. 

Once again, this made sense in Ontario a long time ago when Catholics and Protestants had to agree to live together, but Muslim, Hindu, atheist and every other stripe of religious belief must all wonder what this is all about when they first arrive in Ontario.  These people constitute the vast majority of new Ontarians, it’s time to recognize that in a representative, equal for all public education system.

Part 6: Removing politically inflicted value in our education system

I’ve always had trouble with how unions favor (and reward) seniority over any other contribution to the profession; at best this is simplistic, at worst it encourages disengaged senior teachers to interact less as their careers mature (check out who is doing extra-curriculars in any school for confirmation of this).  We are one of the few professions that, as one colleague once put it, “have all the colonel level people sitting out of leadership positions, we’re led by lieutenants.”  This is entirely the result of union value theory, and it harms the profession.

The basic job of teaching, if grossly simplified, becomes a person doing minimal hours of work, with nothing value added, using the same lessons year in and year out. Ultimately this hurts the learning environment for everyone. Unions and boards protect the (small minority) of teachers who approach the profession in this appalling manner more than they do teachers who push boundaries and attempt positive change.  Status quo thinking defines most educational leadership.

We need to recognize all the ways that education workers add to the learning process. This usually falls short when management attempts to grossly simplify the work in order to quantify it. If we’re in the job of marking students in creative, individualized ways, we have to do that for educators too, but too often teacher assessment is simplistic or made meaningless in order to simplify book keeping or to protect union members at all costs.

Leadership positions in teaching also need to be made meaningfully. Forty bucks a week doesn’t cut it (yes, that’s what many department heads get for management work in teaching).  I’d also want to recognize teachers who do extracurriculars, if not financially, then at least through minimizing their required duties. The teachers who do little else could do oncalls and caf duties, those that are knocking themselves out to make their schools a learning community shouldn’t be ignored for it.

The desired result in all this would be competition for headships and extracurriculars (and administration positions) with top candidates selected.  You seldom see more than a single sacrificial person dropped into any of these jobs – not exactly the way to get the best candidates.  Lineups for leadership, coaching and non-classroom school activities would be a powerful way to move us forward.  It’s sad year in year out hearing the teachers trying to run these things begging for people. 

There is a climate of apathetic mediocrity in our unionized system. Members tend to be indifferent to their union and uniformed as to their work situations. They are encouraged to do as much or as little as they please, knowing that the money will always increase; hardly an environment that fosters engagement and improvement. If we want to continue to focus on improvements in education, we should be considering what is needed to put education first, not what is needed to keep the status quo.

Conclusion

Protecting education means protecting education workers, but protecting education workers does not necessarily mean protecting education. It is vital that Ontario’s public school system continue to improve its high standards and fight for relevancy in a rapidly changing world, but the old paradigm of this happening only on the back of unions and boards is dying; their failure is indicated by their inability to protect and support their members. 

A mandated, transparent, less politically charged, non-localized organizational structure would result in less drama and better representation for everyone involved. Advances in communication mean that we no longer need to think locally in geographic terms.  It would also remove the stigma of unionization from teachers and allow them to adopt a more professional aspect in the public eye.

Walmarting the profession to U.S. standards will result in U.S. standards. You’ll end up with business wanting to intervene with Charter schools, which aren’t really public at all.  Equality of access to education is vital to any democracy, Ontario citizens must not lose access to a fair, open, world class public education system.  Never suspect that a system with a for-profit middle-man will outperform a public system founded on excellence. You’d have to be an economic idiot (or con artist) to suggest that this is possible. 

It’s vital that public education be protected from the short-term gain crowd. Unions have performed this function for many years, but in recent times, and like so many other institutions founded before our age of communication, they are being  bypassed by their own member’s new-found ability to communicate directly with each other. 

We keep slipping into an inevitable future, and we’re often only able to bring what we hold most dear to us across the threshold.  Many assumptions and traditions are slipping by the wayside as society and technology continue dancing at an increasing tempo.  If I have to cling to a belief and have it survive this transformative time, it isn’t unionism, localized education or even a political belief, it’s an axiomatic declaration about the power of public education:

Equally accessible, professionally driven and maximized public education is vital to our future success. It allows everyone to realize their potential regardless of their socio-economic circumstances and creates a population that is capable of responsible democracy, meaningful economic output and reasoned problem solving; without it we are lost. The society that protects and enhances public education is the society that produces active citizens whose eyes are wide open, and who are capable of dealing with the challenges technological, social and personal, that we will all be facing in the difficult decades ahead.

I would protect that belief before I worried about keeping the politics of tradition. I would have my profession managed and led on the basis of excellence and engagement rather than nineteenth century, socialist, union ideals. By protecting and encouraging excellence, we could rejuvenate Ontario’s tattered education system under a reasoned, unpoliticized, professional ideal.

Autumn Colours Motorcycle Photography

On bike photos courtesy of a Ricoh Theta V on a flexible tripod attached to the rear view mirror of my trusty Triumph Tiger 955iThe route was from my home in Elora up through Beaver Valley to the shores of Georgian Bay before coming back through Duntroon and up the Noisy River out of Creemore before heading back down the Grand River home.  The interesting bits were tracing the Niagara Escarpment, the only vaguely interesting roads anywhere near me.


If you want a primer on how to take on-bike photos like this, you can find it here.  It has also been published on Adventure Motorcycle Rider here.

That time I got stuck behind a blockade of Polaris Slingshots on the Noisy River Road…

Google Photos Album here.

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