What’s In a Name?

Originally published on Dusty World in March of 2019:  https://temkblog.blogspot.com/2019/03/whats-in-name.html

Last year we drove across Canada.  We were having breakfast in Drumheller, Alberta when a big family came in.  The grandfather/patriarch of the family was talking to a granddaughter he obviously dotes over.  She was going into high school the next fall and he asked her what she was looking forward to and she said, “wood shop!”  He immediately responded, “why would a pretty girl like you want to do that?”  She did the only thing she could think to do without causing a scene and laughed.  I didn’t laugh, I was staggered by that exchange.  Welcome to the world of #girlsinSTEM.


We’re taking our second run at the CyberTitan cybersecurity competition this year.  Last year’s success suddenly meant a surge of interest, so I was able to quickly put together two teams.  When none of them were female (again), I started asking the keenest girls from my junior classes if they would be interested in forming an all-female team.

Cyberpatriot, the competition that Canada’s CyberTitan works out of, has also recognized how few women there are in STEM in general and information technology / cybersecurity in particular, so offered to waive the application fee for all-female teams this year.  At national finals last year an ICTC organizer noted how few girls were in the competition.  With that observation and support I was able to convince six of my strongest former grade 9 girls to give it a go.

Early on I noticed how differently they approached the intensity of the competition from the two boys teams.  Where the boys tended to specialize and generally work independently, the girls were constantly conscious of how everyone on the team was contributing and were always finding ways to integrate each other into what they were doing.  In some cases, members of the male teams did very little, but none of the girls were so relegated.

All three teams were new to this (all of last year’s team graduated), so no one had previous experience of the competition, but the sense of ownership was much more absolute with the male teams.  That sense of male ownership and dominance has been an ongoing theme in teaching technology – I’ve been writing about it for years.

One of my standard team building approaches is to encourage the teams to name themselves to help bring them together.  Both male teams took names that were almost an afterthought because they were only loosely teams and didn’t feel like it mattered, because it didn’t – they all feel empowered and capable.  The female team came back to me with something that spoke to their experience, charged them up and caused a sense of belonging vital to survival in such a difficult circumstance.

I have to admit, the name did cause me to pause, but my first reflex was to support this sense of edgy self-identification, especially when I saw how it unified the girls and helped them deal with the pressures on them.  I passed on the name to admin and it was ok’d for competition with no discussion, which surprised me a bit, but also delighted me because it meant (I thought) that the the difficult circumstances of this team were being recognized.

A byte is 8 bits of information – typically a byte is used to denote a character in a computer using ASCII code, so each letter you see in this blog is a byte of information.  A terabyte is an almost inconceivable number of bytes – about a trillion of them.  How big is a trillion?  If you spent a million dollars a day since year zero to now in 2019, you still wouldn’t have spent a trillion dollars.  It’s a powerfully big number used in the male dominated field of computer technology to denote massive amounts of memory.

The girls’ team came upon the idea of combining terabyte with bitches into the Terabytches.  I doubt the grandpa telling his granddaughter to do girl-appropriate things would approve, but anyone with any degree of feminist sympathy would recognize the power in combining a traditionally derogatory term used to limit and belittle women (especially smart, vocal ones) with a powerful technology term from deep within tech-bro culture.

The Terabytches put up with the condescension (most of it unconsciously delivered without malice) of their male colleagues throughout the competition by looking after each other and generally ignoring it.  In our conservative, rural school, the idea that tech is for boys is firmly entrenched in spite of my ongoing best efforts.  At one point one of my seniors who is also an engineering lead (and a genuinely nice kid) said, “why are there so many girls in here?” at lunch one day.  There were two girls in a room of 20+ people.  I immediately called him on it and said, “you mean the two girls in here are too many?” and he quickly backpedaled, but the assumptions implicit in the comment still echoed around the room.

My male teams both did very well in this competition, but at no point did they ever feel like they shouldn’t be there, the girls frequently questioned their presence in it.  This was a subject that boys did in a room almost always full of boys.  Even in my most gender diverse class I’m lucky to approach a 20/80 gender split, most are much less.  Many of these culturally enabled boys will go on to successful careers in digital technology while being told, ‘atta boy’ by family and friends.  Meanwhile, girls are being asked why they are wasting their prettiness on technology… and that’s the nicest kind of negativity they’ll get.  More often it’s outright dismissive chauvinism.  The fact that they had each other to lean on allowed them to battle on in a chauvinistic field of fierce competition.

I had a female teacher tell me last week in Ottawa that she won’t run all-female teams because it’s unfair unless all of her students can participate.  That kind of pick-and-choose-equity when it comes to fairness is very frustrating to hear, especially from a female colleague.  When we don’t live in a remotely equal society, saying that everyone should get the same supports is really code for maintaining status-quo prejudices.

The chauvinism the Terabytches face hasn’t been limited to passive aggressive face to face situations.  When we discovered that they had gotten through to nationals and neither of the male teams had, the first thing out of most of the boys was, ‘they only got through because they are girls.’  My response would be, ‘they got as far as they did in a workspace and field of study that they were continually alienated and dismissed by.”  That included barbed comments from anonymous people online and having to study material written almost entirely by men for men while competing in a contest created almost entirely by men for men.  A better question would be, with all of those advantages, why didn’t you boys do better?  The Terabytches finished right behind our senior all-male team in points and beat them in some aspects of the contest.

Picking a sharp name that counters stereotypes is not only a smart move from a competitive point of view, it also highlights all of those assumptions people make around gender and technology.  Boys teams can name themselves after generally european rapists and murderers, often with names that glamourize the violence.  They can be raiders with creepy viking logos and (white) crusaders battling (brown) infidels, they can be marauders and pirates, cavaliers and knights.  Pick your strong male historical context and there’s your team name.  The male culture of team naming also likes to identify with violent animals and revel in that association with male predators.  If you see a bird logo it’s a male-centric one.  The cardinals are red, the blue jays are blue, the orioles are orange and the falcons are big and burley and aggressively male in appearance.  If you want to go mythical, you’ll see all sorts of griffins, dragons and argonauts, but medusas, sirens and harpies?  Not so much, because the connotation is different.  History and culture aren’t kind to strong female stereotypes.  When ‘babe bunch’, ‘daisy dukes’ and ‘fembots’ are in your list of ‘top powerful female team names‘, you know we have a long way to go on this.

With media attention ramping up now that the Terabytches are the top all-female team in Canada, concerns have arisen around the name.  Worries about how the media will spin this to create sensationalism are fair, but my first reflex is still one I’m comfortable with, especially knowing how intelligent and outspoken these Terabytches are.  Having any male tell these young women that they can’t create a strong, edgy team name that speaks to their experience in facing obvious and open sexism while outperforming all-male teams from all over the country is something I’m going to dig my heels in about.  Should they face reductive, sensationalist press in the process of being national finalists, I have no doubt that everyone on the team will be a spectacular ambassador for girls in STEM.

Jaime, the reporter at out local paper, had a great interview with the girls the other week.  She has written a newspaper article about it, but it’s only the tip of a thirty minute interview that had the Terabytches talking so frankly about the challenges of competing as girls in such a male dominated contest that I was tearing up.  The fact that they are an all-female team has allowed them to weather the negativity and succeed in spite of it.  Though several of them are very competitive by nature, they all want to reform the team again next year and aim even higher.

Competitive teams tend to double down on the male stereotypes when identifying themselves.  If a female team attempts to do the same thing from their own lived experience, there are questions around appropriateness that start to feel like status quo sexism.  Competing in bro culture of technology in the male dominated world of cybersecurity in a conservative, rural community was always going to be an uphill struggle.  I know the Terabytches are up for it.  I need to lean on the strength of my convictions and back them through the continuous and sometimes overwhelming static.  If every educator approached the sexism systemic in our subject areas with the same zeal, we could eventually level the playing field and let everyone participate on equal terms.

In the meanwhile, I’m proud to be a Terabytch!

Think I’m over stating male dominance in cybersecurity? As one of the most conservative specialties in a male dominated industry, women in cybersecurity face challenges a lot more perilous than an edgy team name. If you’re an ally, be an ally:


Are you a woman in technology? Help ICTC advocate for a more gender balanced field!

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I Just Wish They Could Finish A Thought

At the ICT conference I attended yesterday we did an industry panel discussion.  The thirty year old VP of  a major printer company passionately responded to a teacher question: “What can we do to prepare students for the workplace.”

“I just wish they could finish a thought!  They can’t close sales, they can’t even perform basic customer service.  They get halfway through a sales pitch and forget what they’re talking about, and they don’t listen!  If a customer is telling them a problem, they respond by ignoring what the customer has just said.  If grads could just finish what they started, we could take care of the rest.”

I’ve seldom heard the distracted digital native described in such (frustrated) clear terms.  If business can’t use them because they can’t actually finish anything, then this puts older people at a distinct advantage.

Another of the panel told the story of a friend’s son who did an IT contract for him.  He started off great, but once the big install was done and he was in beta testing the system, he seemed to slack off.  About halfway through the contract he noticed the twenty something was on Facebook, so he made an account and befriended the kid.  His stream was full of comments like, “I’m doing nothing and getting paid for it!” and “another day on Facebook on company time.”  This manager contacted HR, revised his contract (which still had over a month in it) and ended it two days later, that Friday.

That guy’s inability to think through (complete a thought) about what he was doing (broadcasting his laziness), led to him being unemployed.  There is a direct correlation there that any thinking person would understand, why don’t these digital natives?  Because they don’t finish a thought.  Even cause and effect are magical happenings beyond their understanding.

This question came up again later from a senior federal government manager who couldn’t understand how fractured the thinking of recent Ontario graduates appears to be.  I suggested that Mcguinty’s in-school-till-18 program has resulted in a system wide lowering of expectations.  Rubrics start at level 1.  The implication there is that you pass if you do anything, anything at all.

Failing students has become almost impossible with student success and administration jumping in to offer alternatives (usually taught by teachers with no background in the subject).  A great example is a failed grade 11 English student who was taking our credit recovery program.  She got a B+ on her ISU paper, it had two grammar mistakes in the title alone and was marked by someone with no English background.  I had to wonder how much of it had been cut and pasted, but that wasn’t looked into either.

The example that federal government manager gave was of a student who had missed dozens of classes at a community college and hadn’t completed any work.  His argument?  “Can’t you just pass me?” He was confused when the college prof said no, his high school teachers had.

Apparently we’re graduating students who can’t complete a thought and have systematized secondary education to minimize (if not remove entirely) cause and effect.  I wonder how long it takes before we see persistent and ongoing economic problems related to this.  That young VP’s passionate plea for graduates who can finish a thought might just be the tip of the iceberg.

A Good Week for Self Publishing

If you read the blog, then you’ve already gone on our ride around the Superstition Mountains in Arizona.  Motorcycle Mojo picked up the story to run in this month’s (August) edition.

I then got an email from the editor of noplacelikeout.com saying that I’d been included in their recent list of top 25 motorcycle bloggers.  It’s always nice to get a compliment, and I’m in the company of some pretty major bloggers on that list (you’ll find many of them in the blog roll on the right side of this page).

Top 25

Five or so years ago I stopped playing video games after wracking up 1000 hours on Left For Dead 2 (I was really good!), and then reading Chris Hardwick’s excerpt of The Nerdist’s Way on Wired.  Gaming never got in the way of my career like it did with Hardwick (the breaks I got involved manual labour in 100° warehouses), but that thousand hours spent shooting zombies had me asking myself a difficult question, “what the fuck are you doing with your time?”

Hardwick Nerdist Wisdom

I went cold turkey on video games. I’ll occasionally play with my son, but a single game and not often.  What I did instead was kick off a hobby that I’d always wanted to do (motorcycling) and reinvigorate my dream of getting published as a writer.  A few less electron zombies have been killed by me, but the things I’ve done instead feel a lot more satisfying because they are, you know, actual things.

One of these times I’ll find an angle and get the support to take one of the dream trips I fantasize about over the winter months…

…or get a chance to ride one of those dream bikes I read about….

I do pretty well with what I make, but anything like those opportunities only empowers the writing, giving me more to explore and write about.  Where ever possible I’ll keep pouring gasoline on the fire to make that happen.  It’s easy when you love what you’re doing, and what you’re doing produces real world results.

Tires & Wheels

The wheels are off the Concours.  Tomorrow they’re off to school to have the tires off and the bearings pressed out, then it’ll be over to Erin for some wheel magic at Fire Ball Coatings.  If this goes well Fire Ball are going to be my go-to for advanced paint treatments.

In the meantime I’ve been going over the bits and pieces, getting it cleaned up.  I suspect I might be the first person into the rear drive hub in many moons.

The Bridgestone on the front was manufactured in November, 2007 – that’s eight years and two months ago!  Ipads weren’t invented when this tire was made!  I’m not experienced or fussy enough to tell the difference between new and old/mismatched rubber, but I hope new tires are going to transform this bike’s handling.

The rear Dunlop was manufactured in March, 2011 – four years and nine months ago.  Not as bad as the Bridgestone but having two different branded tires on the bike isn’t ideal either.

Even though the Dunlop is almost five years old and I have put 10,000 miles on it (plus whatever the guy before me did), it’s still got the rubber nipples on it – that’s one tough tire.

Removing the rotors was a pretty straightforward process.  I aim to clean them up and maybe paint them or at least clear coat the middles before putting them back on.

I saw a TV show on current bike customizing trends and they said they had Axel Rose came in and bought a ‘distressed’ Harley – a new bike that is scuffed up to give it character (patina in the tongue of customizers).  I come by my patina more honestly.

The cover inside the drive side of the rear rim – pretty grimmy, but getting cleaned up.

The rubber weighted piece under this cover (and the cover itself) were in there good, it took
a fair bit of cleaning and wiggling to get the cover out.

The shaft drive with the rim off.  Doesn’t look too bad.  I’ll give the rear sub frame a clean and lube while everything is off.

Concours ZG1000 looking like something out of Star Wars,
and ready for a hover conversion!
Candy gold on the left looks pretty spectacular, but my old warrior is getting the plain gold.  Fire Ball Coatings has me
thinking about a project bike that I could really bling out though: power coated frame, candy coated rims… the works!

The Toronto Motorcycle Show 2016

A 10°C day meant a number of people stole a ride over to the
show… in February!

Despite a rather miserable experience at the ‘Supershow’ in January, I went to the Toronto Motorcycle Show yesterday and it reminded me why this is my favourite show.

After NOT having to line up for ten minutes just to get into the parking lot, and NOT having to line up for forty minutes to get tickets, and NOT having to line up for another half an hour to get in the door, we immediately found ourselves on the show floor sitting on bikes and chatting with people.

When you’re done,
you’re downtown!

Yes you have to pay for parking, but the ticket prices are similar and you can buy them online without worrying about having your information stolen.  There are still deals available at this show on accessories, but the real focus of this one are the manufacturers themselves.  Everyone attends this event (unlike the Harley/Kawasaki only ‘Super’ show).  I got to sit on Ducatis, Indians and Triumphs, as well as every other major manufacturer.  And when you’re done you’re downtown in Toronto.  We met up with family, had dinner and went to the Aquarium after.  When you wander out into the airport/industrial wasteland around the International Centre all you want to do is get as far away as possible.

Inside, the show itself is laid out well with wide aisles so you aren’t waiting for clumps of people to filter through (the line ups never ended in January!).  With that many manufacturers on display you get to see a broad range of machines and talk to people from all brands.

This is the kind of professionally run show I’m not embarrassed to bring my wife to.  I’ll be back next year.  This one is a keeper.

This is the show to sit on a Triumph!  The new Bonneville T120 in this case.

Kawasaki had the H2 and the H2R on display!
… and the Anniversary Ninja.
Number one of thirty!

How do you get my wife, a non-rider with a Master’s degree out to look at bikes?
Put on a professional show like the Toronto Motorcycle Show!
Bimmer browsing.  Like Harley, BMW know how to put on a show.
The Africa Twin… finally!  Nowhere to be seen in January, but on display at the Honda stand here (it’s surprisingly tall).

The bike she adores: the Indian Scout.

The difference between Dani Pedrosa and I on a Honda race bike?  He doesn’t look like a circus bear on a trike.

Once again, the bat-bike like Honda NM4 was Max’s dream machine.

The show is on again today – if you’re in the GTA on this Sunday afternoon wondering what to do, a trip down to the CNE for the Toronto Bike Show is a good idea.

Motorcycling & Autism

Originally published on Tim’s Motorcycle Diaries in March, 2014.

In 2004 my wife and I had our son Max.  At the age of three his daycare provider was wondering about his reactions to sudden loud noises and encouraged us to have him in for assessment.  This was a difficult process for me, I didn’t want him labelled and pigeon holed for the rest of his life, but at the age of seven he was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

Autism presents in an astonishing number of ways.  In Max’s case he’s hyperlexic, and has many of the social cues you’d associate with autism (lack of eye contact, nervousness around strangers, generally missing social cues).  Encouraging Max into activities that other kids would leap at was always tricky.  We tried soccer for a year, but it wasn’t his thing; Max does things in his own way.  When we started him on a bicycle he was slow to get into it and then wouldn’t take the training wheels off.  After an intensive week last summer with Kid’s Ability he was shooting around on two wheels.

We built him a bike (pretty much from scratch) and he’s been inseparable from it since.  Last summer was, coincidentally, my first summer motorbiking.  While I was fettling my bike, he was fettling his.  I took him for a couple of short rides around town on the Ninja, but I was worried about how much attention he was paying on the back there.

This past weekend we took the bike down to Guelph on a sunny but cool Saturday morning.  With the topbox (and backrest!) on, it was a lovely ride.  I was no longer worried about him disappearing off the back.

He is very excited about the idea of riding which has me wondering about autism and motorcycling.  I think he enjoys the anonymity a helmet gives him (something not uncommon in autistic people).  In addition to the sense of anonymity is also the mechanical sympathy I see in a lot of autistic kids.  

My day job is as a high school teacher of computer engineering and we have a high number of autistic kids in our program.  I think they enjoy computers because they are consistent in ways that human beings simply aren’t.  That consistency creates a trust in those kids; they can work with a computer and know that it won’t be bizarre, random or emotionally difficult.  Some of my most focused, strongest students are on the spectrum and present a deep, nuanced understanding of technology.

Having a son who is autistic, I’ve moved from a professional relationship with autism to a much more personal one.  When it’s your own son you start to see it in yourself as well.  My own mechanical empathy has a lot to do with my seeing machines as more than a sum of their parts.  Where I find people difficult, often frustratingly so, machines reward consistency and right action; I like them for that very reason, and suspect that my son does too.

I tried looking around online to see if there have been any links made between autism and motorcycling but I couldn’t find anything other than a lot of ‘rides for autism’.  The immersive nature of motorcycling fits nicely with the hyper-focus many autistic people are able to demonstrate.  You get to be anonymous inside your helmet and alone with your thoughts.  On top of it all, motorcyclists seem to have an intense relationship with their rides, what many ‘normals’ would consider to be mere chunks of metal, or worse, pointless infatuations.  A sympathetic if not empathic relationship with machines is a trait many motorcyclists and autistics seem to share.

I suspect there is a deep and lasting relationship between motorcycling and autism.  I wonder that there is nothing written about this anywhere.

2017 Autumn Garden Photos

From Canadian Thanksgiving (early October) to the first snows of December.  All taken with the trusty Canon T6i in my own backyard.  I have a thing for nature macros.

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The Canadian Museum of Human Rights: I stared into the abyss for too long

Amazing architecture, but by the end of the long walk up
the history of humans being shitty to each other you might
be tempted to step off one of the many ledges; I was.

I just spent a long morning walking up the architecturally astonishing Canadian Museum of Human Rights.  By the end of it I was reminded of a comment one of my profs made after he visited the Holocaust Museum: “You don’t end up thinking worse about Hitler and the Nazis, you end up thinking worse about everyone else.”

By the time I got high up in the museum I was feeling pretty done with being human.  The Museum tries to introduce a sense of hope, but I had trouble accessing it, especially when the subtext of the whole thing and how it presents itself highlights the horror of human social nature.

What all the apartheids (the travelling exhibit on the first floor was called Mandela), holocausts, genocides and the general disharmony of human history had in common was our urge to establish ourselves as a dominant culture and then destroy anyone weaker or non-compliant.  This self serving, centralizing behavior is a foundation of human group think.  In the senior year of my philosophy degree I suggested that human beings are, by their nature, violently tribal and selfishly motivated when in groups.  They’ll use any means at their disposal, from ability, race and gender to religion, culture and politics to isolate and attack each other for the benefit of their own tribe.  We’ll invent a reason to segregate and attack each other if there isn’t an immediately physically obvious one.  The prof adamantly and immediately shut down my line of thinking, saying that it had been proven in some kind of scientific sense that this wasn’t true, but there is a museum in Winnipeg that shines a bright light on this central aspect of human nature.

We’re not falling far from the family tree.  Just like chimpanzees, baboons and most other apes, humans feel the urge to attack and victimize strangers, not usually at an individual level but at a group/social level.  We have an in-built urge to aggrandize our own culture at the expense of others because it offers us a chance to be selfish while dressing it in virtue.  Murder becomes patriotism, genocide becomes an act of faith.  Human society is founded on this urge and the ones that survive embrace it wholeheartedly, the ones who didn’t have already been eaten.  Our complexity has allowed us to glorify and express this viciousness in ways that are unique on our planet; our cruelty is truly boundless in regards to the natural world, but especially with each other.

You’re supposed to reach the Israel Asper Tower of Hope at the top of the museum and feel hope, but I wasn’t.   The Museum suggests an evolution of human rights towards something greater, but the world today seems to be awash in technology that is at best confusing any sense of advancement even while we’re staggering under the weight of global issues we’re all too selfish to address.

In 2018 we’re using emerging technology to destroy human rights in new and interesting ways.  We’ve got Russia cyber-attacking and annexing whole sections of the Ukraine.  After learning about the Holodomor today, this is business as usual for Russia’s relationship with the Ukraine.  What did anyone do about it?  Well, we awarded Russia with the World Cup and installed a US president who evidently works for them.  We’ve got social media platforms making millions even as they erode democracy and create a mis-information revolution.  The United States’ democracy is in tatters and Ontario just followed them down the populist rabbit hole.  In both cases driven by white, right wing religious types who would love nothing more that to see all the advances made in human rights dissolved away.

The Museum seems to have stopped recording human rights abuses at about 2012.  Considering the delicate political dance being done this isn’t a surprise.  Pointing out the human rights failures of current governments and corporations while they’re funding you wouldn’t keep the lights on for long.

The museum describes social media as a great democratization of media and a powerful means of giving everyone a voice, but nowadays we have a differing view on that.  Western democracies were soaring under black US presidents, politically strong European Unions and an expansive sense of hope when they stopped recording this selective history.  Sure, we were staggering under the weight of a banking collapse of international proportions that was designed to drive wealth from ninety-nine percent of us to the one percent, but that’s not mentioned anywhere either unless you look to the sponsors list.  

The human rights march we’re all supposed to be on towards an ideal the museum tries to present feels like it has faltered now that we’re in our unscripted future; maybe it was never there to begin with.  It would have been wonderful to have seen new pieces on fake news, modern economic terrorism (banking), modern propaganda (social media), and how populism in Western democracies has put pressure on many human rights.  White supremacy in the Twenty First Century?  Human rights problems didn’t end five years ago, we’re not at the top of a mountain of human rights achievements we built, we’re on a rickety house of cards that seems doomed to collapse, but the museum is strangely silent on this.

There also seem to be some gaps in the museum’s historical analysis.  No mention of Palestinians, or Syria, or dropping nuclear bombs on untouched civilian populations to get accurate statistics, though the Japanese comfort women system was mentioned.  You can’t help but feel there are some Western political undercurrents going on here, which of course leads me back to what kicked this whole thing off: we’ll use any means necessary to gain and keep a social advantage, even if it means weaponizing human rights themselves as a political tool.

Insights from the general public at the end of six plus floors of human rights atrocities.

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The Future of Work: the purpose of public education

The idea of online echo-chambers where you only ever see ideas that imitate your own bias has been a recent topic of concern.  Since battling my way through a philosophy degree at the University of Guelph, I’ve made it a point of trying on difficult ideas even if my first reflex is to disagree with them.  I was once again testing myself like this at ICTC’s Future of Work Summit this week.

One of the main themes that kept popping up in this summit was people from private for-profit sectors suggesting that we completely rejig the public education system to serve up graduates who integrate with their employment needs more effectively. Ontario’s new government has a similarly reductive view of public education’s role.  I teach technology and have always encouraged my students to discover and cultivate pathways that will lead them to a meaningful and financially effective careers, it’s one of my go-tos, but this subsuming of public education into the needs of private business pushed me further down that path than I care to tread.

I usually tweet my responses to ideas that come up in conferences in order to document them.  It helps me remember what happened when I’m reflecting on them later.  My initial response to a number of for-profit businesses asking that the entire public education system get rejigged for their benefit was to try and point out the difference between what public education does and what they think it does.  Contrary to popular belief, our sole function isn’t to crank out employees whose only function is to make profit.

There was a strange tension, for me at least, between the aboriginal opening prayer song and talk of inclusion with the profit driven interest that kept bubbling up in various presentations.  Perry McLeod-Shabogesic‘s thoughts on the wisdom of honouring everyone’s contribution and his careful wording around being a helper regardless of profit or personal benefit felt sharply at odds with the keynote by Cheryl Cran, whose lean, aggressive management strategies produce small but exceedingly efficient profit driven teams.  Part of me likes that vicious efficiency.  Drop the dead weight and maximize your effectiveness.  I continue to participate in competition because of that drive, but I can’t let it motivate my teaching as a whole because my function is to serve the whole.  I couldn’t help but think, “all business speaks from a place of privilege but has no idea that it does.”  The idea of profit only exists as an option when fundamental needs are met.  For many of the people in the world (and it’s the majority) who are still battling with fundamental needs, profit is a privilege they can’t afford.

In a public classroom I teach students who will never earn profit for someone else in their lives.  Some will choose to work in the public sector helping society as a whole in healthcare, education or support services.  Others will want to push back against the profit driven economy that is putting the fate of humanity in jeopardy.  Others still may want to focus on meaningful work that is ignored by the private sector, like raising children or volunteerism, and some of them simply aren’t capable of working in the exclusivity of a for-profit workplace.  I think Perry would think laterally and find ways to value all of those contributions.  That indigenous philosophy based around the health of the community over the wealth of an individual is very helpful for a teacher considering their clientele.  In the privileged world of business, all those people in my classroom don’t exist.  Business focused speakers would want to ensure you never hired any of that sizable chunk of the population in the first place.

The changing Canadian job market: between public sector and NGO employees, a sizable chunk of Canada’s working population doesn’t operate in for-profit business.  There is much more to society than business need.

If a sizable portion of Canada’s population doesn’t work in for-profit business, rejigging public education to serve that single sector demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of how society works.  From a social justice point of view, you could argue that public education should focus on producing engaged and socially aware citizens.  From an aboriginal point of view, we should be speaking to people from a place of community.  From a special needs point of view, we should be working toward greater compassion and understanding of everyone’s contribution.  An environmental point of view might also be a driver in public education.  Environmentalism is increasingly diametrically opposed to globalized business and an ever-expanding economy in a world that is fraying under the weight of this unsustainable philosophy.  Public education needs to address all of these perspectives of human society.

During the 2008 market collapse, one of those periodic moments in history when profit driven people lose their minds and fictionalize the world we all live in to such a degree that it becomes obviously unsustainable and collapses in on itself, I saw an online comment that said, “you don’t feed profit driven business steak, you let it feed off society’s waste, like the cockroach that it is.”  That’s a harsh thing to say but people were pretty mad in 2008, though most seem to have forgotten all about it now, though we’re still paying for it.

The idea of inclusivity was a recurring theme at the summit.  One example given was was how remote communities don’t have digital connectivity yet and this was held up as an example of a lack of equity.  It is indeed a lack of equity, but you can bet that no profit driven business is going to provide that infrastructure.  The infrastructure we build in society, especially the stuff to address remote communities where profit isn’t going to motivate action, is always done with public money.  Roads are built not by the corporations that ruin them with transport trucks, but by governments supported by taxpayers.  ICT infrastructure is no different.  Corporations make their profits on the backs of infrastructure built with public funds.  In this way, there is no real private company – they all rest on the back of publicly funded infrastructure.  This is neither good nor bad, it’s just the way it is.  Business is too fragile to make profit without support – fragility is the underbelly of that business privilege.  That many business people wave their profit focus around with pride is always baffling to me.  There isn’t a single billionaire who hasn’t made their wealth on the back of publicly funded infrastructure.  To make that fragility the primary focus of public education is absurd.

This isn’t to say that private, profit-driven business does not have a function in our society, but it isn’t the heart and it certainly shouldn’t be the brain.  At best, profit driven business is an appendage, like the arms or legs.  Important, no doubt, but it can as often injure the body politic as it does help.  Healthy, supported private business is important, but it isn’t the beall and endall of human society, and tailoring public education to cater to it is, at best, myopic and self serving.


Over this past weekend in Toronto I’ve had a strange breadth of experience.  On the Saturday night we went to the Tiff Lightbox to see Apollo 11, incredibly restored and rendered footage of the Apollo 11 Moon mission…

I was born two months before that happened and spent my early years in love with the US space program.  I was in tears watching this film.  I consider it a pinnacle of human achievement that points to a possible, sustainable future.  My love of technology was fostered by NASA’s work around Apollo.  I fear we’ve lost anything like the vision and drive needed to get back to this summit.  Watching the film, I couldn’t help but remind myself that this wasn’t a public or private enterprise, but a brilliant combination of what we are capable of when we combine our various talents and work together.

The next afternoon I was at Sting’s The Last Ship, a heart wrenching and de-humanizing tale of conservative globalization in 1970s England.  I have family from Tyneside where this takes place and it rocked me.  As a pro-union story valuing humanity over the economic forces that diminish us, it amazed me that it was playing in the capital of Fordnation.  That the theatre was full of one percenters who daily throw people on the heap for their own profit was a disconnect, but that’s Toronto for you.  As we stepped over homeless people laying on the sidewalks on our way back to the hotel, I wondered how Torontonians can keep it all straight.  Perhaps seeing Sting is all that matters and the story doesn’t, but it should.

The next day I was sitting in this summit on the future of work where well dressed business experts talked about how we should rejig the public education system to better serve their profit margin.  The Last Ship part of me was struggling with a rising anger, but there is more to this than just dismissing the needs of business.  The purpose of public education isn’t to serve business elitism, but there are a number of situations where what we do in public education aligns with business need.  A literate, numerate and digitally fluent population helps everyone regardless of the sector of society they go on to participate in.  The digital divide we contribute to by graduating students with little or no digital fluency is hurting much more than business’s bottom line.  From that point of view, business and the rest of society are in alignment.

If you’re digitally illiterate in the Twenty-First Century, you’re in real trouble whether you’re working in the public sector, the private sector or at an NGO.  It even hurts you if you’re not working at all.  Canada as a whole would benefit from a more digitally fluent society.  ICTC may have aimed this summit at the needs of private enterprise, but addressing that new literacy goes well beyond the needs of business.

ICTC’s drive for a digital skills continuum jibes with my expanded view of public education as much more than human resources training for business.  Our country and our planet would benefit from more digitally effective citizens.  How to make changes to Canada’s complex ecosystem of educational organizations was also a concern at the summit.  Canada is the only leading OECD country without a federal ministry of education or a centralized idea of education, yet Canada performs astonishingly well in the world.  Could it be that our mozaic of often competing education systems has protecting it from gross simplification by other social interests?  A central system would be much easier to manipulate.

At the end of three days in Toronto, I’m stretched between being excited about the ideas of agility and efficiency advocated in the Future of Work Summit and worried about the dehumanizing effects that globalization and business efficiency tend to bring with them.  In a more perfect world I’d hope we could chase efficiency for something other than profit.


Canadian statistics on employment by sector:


Canada’s non-profit and charity sectors:

“The Canadian registered charity sector alone (not even including non-profits that are not charities) is bigger than the following industries (as a percentage of GDP):

Real estate and rental and leasing (13.04%), Manufacturing (10.36%), Mining, quarrying and oil or gas extraction (8.14%), Finance and insurance (7.1%), Public administration (6.33%), Wholesale trade (5.66%), Retail trade (5.41%), Transportation and warehousing (4.44%), Utilities (2.27%), Accommodation and food services (2.17%) and Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting (1.65%)”


Downward pressure on wages – we have more and more people and less need for them…

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