Everyone Deserves Respect

Bullies are cruel, but demanding respect
from everyone is the worst kind of bullying

According to our newly created mission statement we’re supposed to be producing students who are respectful.  I was advocating for responsible but respect got the nod.

Respectful students serve order.  Their docility allows a system to exist beyond reproach.  If students are respectful they obey authority without questioning it.  Respectful students are easy to manage.  Any adult in the building doesn’t have to be respectable, they are automatically entitled to it.  It’s a good way to ensure that students do what they’re told while the system can do what it likes.

Misuse of respect doesn’t end in organizations, it has also crept out into society as a whole.  We’re all supposed to give it to everyone all the time, but you earn respect don’t you?  I’ve been told, and it’s printed on the wall of the school to be seen every time I walk in the door, that everyone deserves respect.  I find this not only untrue but pathologically wrong headed.

The temptation is to go straight to serial killers and death camp commandants in proving that not everyone deserves respect, but respect isn’t easy to earn even for the mediocre.  Anyone who respects mediocrity is probably simple minded, or so desperate to not offend anyone that they appear simple minded.  The motivation behind respecting everyone is to not offend anyone, but in the process of putting everyone up on a pedestal, individual effort and excellence is rendered meaningless.

There is a confusion of language around the word respect.  People use it to mean being civil or polite, but that isn’t what being respectful means.  Being respectful arises from you holding something in high regard.  Using respect as a demand instead of a recognition of excellence is manipulative, usually done by an organization that doesn’t want to be held accountable.

Respecting a person comes from you holding their thoughts and actions in high esteem.  It doesn’t come from valuing everything they do because they do it   Blind fandom or faith is dangerous.  Any organization that enshrines respect as a demand should do some soul searching.  I can respect a system that strives for respectability.  I can’t respect a system that demands it… it’s disrespectful!

The idea that everyone’s opinion matters is at the root of the
vapid everyone deserves respect belief.

People toss around statements like ‘respect your elders’, perhaps this is where schools get the idea to enshrine it in their mission statements.  Respecting someone because they are old strikes me as quite irrational.  The eighty year old draft dodger who ran away is hardly as respectable as the twenty year old who did his duty.  One of the first realizations I had as an adult was that age is a poor indicator of respectability.  We demand it in children to make them manageable, but that kind of ageism is little different than racism.  We should value people based upon their thoughts and deeds, not on their social status.

Everyone deserves to be treated civilly.  Everyone deserves compassion, but everyone does not deserve respect.  We like to enshrine it in school language in order to subjugate children into an unquestioning relationship with authority, but that isn’t particularly flattering.  Teachers do not deserve respect.  They deserve to be treated civilly, and compassionately, but they don’t deserve respect, no one does.  I would hope that they earn it with their students, but many don’t, and then issues of classroom management arise.  We might try to stamp out the individual assessment of respect, but it’s always there between people regardless of their age or job.

Respect plays an important role in how human beings interact with each other.  We should all strive to be respectable and earn the admiration of our fellows, but making respect an expectation belittles us all and encourages, at best, mediocrity.  When everyone is automatically assigned respect individual effort becomes pointless.  

We should be aiming for more than misdirection and ease of control as educators.  We should be encouraging individual excellence in our students, not hammering them all down with false demands of universal respect.

Stunt Riding is Easier Than You Think in Ontario (and everywhere else evidently)

We were at SMART Adventures Off-road Training last week.  You should go, same price as a day out watching professional sports-ball, but you’re the athlete and what you learn there will raise your bikecraft to another level.  While there I got an opportunity to go out for a ride on the new BMW 1250GS with the legendary Clinton Smout.  The new GS is a thing of beauty and a very capable machine, but what struck me most about it was how high the handlebars are set; the bike is very easy to ride while standing on the pegs, which is one of the ‘command’ positions when riding a dual sport or adventure bike.  I’m a tall guy (6’3″) and often have to bend too much to operate a bike from the pegs, but not on that GS. 

We switched to the big bikes after a couple of hours riding trials bikes, which don’t have seats at all.  Standing up for that long on these super light weight, powerful and very twitchy machines pretty much wiped me out, so a chance to ride BMW’s latest evolution of the legendary GS was a nice change.  It was a blisteringly hot day well into the mid-thirties Celsius and I was drenched after the trials gymnastics, so I did what I usually do and stand up on the pegs once we got moving to air out a bit and get a feel for how the bike moves.

Clinton doing pre-flight checks on the
BMW – it’s a digital machine.

When we stopped for a coffee Clinton said something that surprised me.  A friend of his was charged with “stunt riding” for standing on his pegs while riding.  He wasn’t doing anything silly or speeding, he just stood up on the pegs on a bike designed to help you control it that way.  This charge is an officer’s discretion situation and the OPP officer who pulled him over who may very well have no understanding of motorcycling or this kind of dual purpose machine made the decision that this was stunting.  He fought it in court, but the judge told him if he wanted to stretch he should just pull over to the side of the highway and stretch, which is the kind of advice that’ll get you killed.  Along with that bad advice he got whacked with a crippling stunt driving charge.  I can’t imagine what this does on your driving record for insurance, let alone the fines and possible jail time.  This is the same charge as doing over 150 kms/hr on a public road!

I’ve frequently stood up on the pegs while riding in order to maintain a level of comfort by cooling off or stretching that would allow me to ride with better focus.  I’ve only done this on adventure bikes designed for it and there is no intention of stunting in this.  At other times I’ve done it to navigate particularly gnarly pavement and construction or provide greater situational awareness by better seeing what’s ahead.  The types of bikes I ride are designed to use this variation in rider position to actually enhance control of the vehicle.

The only place ‘motorcycle’ is mentioned in the law is around wheelies,
otherwise generalizations around cars are all we get.

There was a recent local news article that talked about all the stunt driving going on in the area.  One of the infractions listed in from the Ontario Traffic Act where it looks at the definition of stunt driving is driving while not in the driver’s seat.  The intent there is obviously aimed at a car, but Ontario likes to cast a wide net so it can charge citizens and tax them with fines without question, so the vagueness is left in there intentionally and it cost Clinton’s buddy big.  This once again reminds me of just how aggressively Ontario pillories motorcyclists.

I’m very conscious of how physically challenging motorcycle riding is and consider it a priority to retain maximum focus and control of these potentially dangerous vehicles.  In Ontario, where riders can’t split traffic and filter, and where temperatures in the summer can easily hit danger levels, the unprotected motorcyclist under the baking sun is forced to sit in stationary traffic and fumes and isn’t even allowed to stand up to get some air when things move?  It’s like Ontario wants to kill people who ride.

I’ve gone on rides at various times where road conditions are such that standing on the pegs actually helps me navigate circumstances and manage road hazards more safely.  Standing on the pegs can, as CycleWorld describes it, turn “you into a dynamic part of your bike” and “an active part of the suspension.”  Thanks to Ontario’s vague laws and officious police force and judiciary I can get had up for stunt riding when I stand up to correctly navigate terrible road surfaces (of which Ontario has many), road construction (of which Ontario has many) or if I simply need a better look at what is happening ahead.  Situation awareness is just another one of the many benefits of standing on your pegs, but Ontario is more interested in charging citizens with harsh, non-specific generalizations that can financially cripple them.

The general advice online is if you need to stand just lift your butt a bit so you can make the argument that you aren’t standing – you are and you’re breaking the law, but at least you’re putting your life at risk doing it wrong so it looks legal.  This doesn’t offer you optimal control, but safe operation of a motorcycle isn’t what we’re going after anymore, is it?  The other way out is to have a nice, amiable chat with the officer and ensure them that what you’re doing is pertinent to the nature of the multi-disciplinary machine you’re on.  You might not be able to make that argument with sports bikes or cruisers, but if your bike has any off road pretensions, standing on the pegs is something it was designed for that actually helps a rider manage difficult terrain.

Next time I’m on an atrocious Ontario road getting my teeth knocked out by a loose and dangerous surface I imagine I’ll do the safe thing and stand up to better manage it, but I better keep an eye out for the law while I do it.  Wouldn’t it be something is safe vehicle operation was what drove our laws instead of vagaries that allow officious cops to make criminals of otherwise law abiding citizens?


Ontario’s Traffic Act in relation to ‘stunt driving’

“Under the Highway Traffic Act, those convicted of stunt driving or street racing could face a fine ranging from $2,000 to $10,000, a prison term of six months and a driving suspension.”

“Standing while riding does more than make you look cool and allow you to stretch your legs – it will keep you balanced and in control of your motorcycle.”  Marisa McInturff, Motorcycle Safety Foundation

“your feet are crucial points of contact with and control of the bike. Standing up on the pegs turns you into a dynamic part of your bike rather than just dead weight. It makes you an active part of the suspension.”

Ontario isn’t the only jurisdiction where the law is out of whack with vehicle dynamics and common sense.

More insanity, this time from BC, where the majority of roads aren’t paved by you can’t stand up and provide better control and safety while riding!  “a majority of BC’s roads are unpaved and by the letter this law does endanger, if not make outlaws of, responsible dual sport, & adventure riders.”

“You want to be standing up straight, but with a slight bend in your knees and elbows, in order to keep good control over the bike’s movement.”

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Touring Southern Vancouver Island

I just found out I get to spend a glorious weekend at the end of May in Victoria BC.  I’ve been out that way before, and after the worst winter in years in Ontario I’ve already started thinking about how I’m going to spend a day in something other than a frigid deep-freeze.

Cycle BC rentals and tours offers bikes out of Victoria for a variety of uses.  I immediately began fantasizing about a glorious day tour through southern Vancouver Island on two wheels.  With choices of a Suzuki V-Strom 650, Kawasaki KLR-650 (which I’m already on the verge of buying) and other smaller bikes, the Vancouver Island bike choices are ideal!

The KLR would be nice, but the V-Strom is a whole other bike by a whole other manufacturer, and I’ve always been Suzuki smitten.  The GSX-R 750 has been on my wish list since I was a teen.  The Hayabusa has a special kind of charm (especially after sitting on it).  The chance to ride a Suzi through the Pacific Northwest would be a dream come true.

After having a look over the options, I think the Port Renfrew-Cowichan Motorcycle Route is what I’m looking for.  272 kilometres of wild, North Western Pacific seaside, a winding route through the mountains and then back down the other side into Victoria again.

After such a long, cold winter, the thought of riding around Southern Vancouver Island in late spring is a glimmer of hope in the darkness.


It’s booked!  A BMW F800ST this Friday, pictures to follow! – May 27

Decentralizing 20th Century School IT Infrastructure

From the Prezi brainstorming digital sandbox: http://prezi.com/h7ms3hw7jx7-/mini-lab/

30:1 student to computer ratios?  It’s too expensive to have a 1:1 student to computer ratio?

This is a load of nonsense.  While the business world has moved on to individualized computing devices and cloud based software solutions, school boards still doggedly hang on to 20th Century thinking about centralized IT with massive, complex software images, difficult to manage intranetworks and remote maintenance of shared machines.

I’ve been on the ground, at class-level watching this fail again and again.  Equipment is vandalized and left inoperable for weeks at a time because no one local bears any responsibility for it.  Technicians are stretched thin between many schools, often not returning for weeks on end.  The already dismal student access to technology becomes even worse.

Labs that contain over-priced, years old hardware are kept under contracted repair long after they have given up every ounce of their residual value and are little more than landfill (and a heavy weight on network efficiency).  Those same labs contain the same, tedious software on the same, tedious hardware; a monotony of labs that offer nothing of the variety and opportunity available in the world beyond school.

The networks are overburdened with file sharing intranets that grind to a halt when many users begin to copy large files to network servers, or overfill limited on-site storage, causing the whole thing to simply stop.  So much focus is placed on intranet software and file sharing that access to the internet itself is through a tiny bit of bandwidth, making access to the largest collection of human knowledge ever assembled jerky, slow or utterly useless.

A modern business office uses task specific equipment to enable users continuous access to their data and their colleagues.  Phones are used when appropriate, but phones are never appropriate in school.  Tablets and ultralight laptops serve the mobile employee, allowing them to input information and communicate as though they are in the office when thousands of miles away.

Technology in education studiously ignores the needs of the student who must travel from home to school and class to class, carrying bags of massive, out of date textbooks.  Student to student communication is discouraged in most learning situations in favour of discipline and order.  If students do communicate in school (and I assure you, they do), they have to do it in underhanded, devious ways that violate whatever the latest technology-banishing rules dictate.

Information Technology in school is anything but.  Perhaps Lack of Information Technology would be a better title.

The mini-lab idea returns technical literacy to teachers from the star chamber of board based IT.  It places local people in charge of local equipment and drastically reduces the costs of educational technology while dramatically boosting the student to digital tool ratio.  Instead of the monotony of labs of out of date, inefficient, over-priced desktops, staff and students would gain access to an eclectic mix of digital tools and begin to develop meaningful digital fluency in both hardware familiarity and data management.  It’s a first, small step in a diaspora away from centralized board IT and toward differentiated technology access that truly serves our teacher’s and student’s needs in the evolving datasphere.

Biker Nerd Style

While everyone else is going for the Harley Davidson leather thing, I’m looking for a bit more nerd in my biker look.  I’m going with for an Imperial trooper vibe.I like the idea of white kit that gets used looking on the road.  Having a white jacket and helmet will also be cooler in hot sun.  

Star Wars Bike Culture!

The black and white theme can follow through to the bike too.  White helmet with black trim, white jacket with black trim.  White bike with black trim…

Monochrome but high visibility True North textile jacket.  It’s armored
(very Trooperish), and vented so it’ll be comfortable in the heat or lined
in the cool. Wish it came in white.
That’s the helmet I want, not the one I got, though the one I got was a full face white helmet with black trim too.  A modular helmet would be fantastic – the fighter pilot style is a bonus.

I’d originally thought I’d go cheap on the kit, but this is where you get yourself sorted out so that you’re comfortable and protected, at least as much as you can be on a bike.  To that end, I’m looking at all the details.

I’m all about the stream lined biking boot.  They protect the ankle, offer good ventilation and water proofing, and aren’t as crazy expensive as I thought they’d be.

I read another new rider in Cycle Canada who tried to go with construction boots but was frustrated by how clunky they made his footwork with gear changes.  I’m looking for boots that protect while giving me a good feel for the bike.

Getting kitted out for a bike is a cautious process.  It’s important to get what fits well and suits the kind of riding you’ll be doing.  A bit of consistency in the colour choices and style make for a bit more of a personal statement.  I might not line up with the Harley crowd, but I’ll look Imperial cool.

Pandemic Protocols: A COVID19 Ready Ontario Education System

COVID19 school early in the pandemic –
all that infrastructure not doing anything.
We can do better.

I’ve been reading the never ending speculation driven by an increasing panic on the part of educators as this school year approaches and this Ontario government seems incapable of planning for it.  When the panic rises too high people start making demands for things that we’ve never had, like a guaranteed safe school.  Teachers have been getting ill at schools since schools began, but this isn’t about that, it’s about managing COVID19 to the best of our scientific knowledge.  The point isn’t to aim at the impossible, it’s to put as many reasonable processes in place as possible to protect the people in the system.

This is about secondary (high) school, which might sound odd because no one is talking about high school COVID19 planning, so I thought I’d give it a shot since no one else appears to be.

From my admittedly layman’s point of view there are two sides to COVID19 management.  One is the social responsibility side, which is something people seem to be struggling with.  The other is monitoring and response.  For me, if the system were to spin up in September following these rules, I think we could get things working as well as possible under the circumstances.


  • If your child had been in contact with anyone infected they should be withdrawn from school for two weeks in quarantine.  During this time they are expected to keep up with class work remotely unless they have severe symptoms, in which case a doctor’s note can release them from school work
  • Any child who is screened and discovered to have COVID19 is isolated at school and sent home at the earliest possible opportunity with minimal contact with others.  All schools have an isolated space reserved for this possibility
  • Testing will focus on students and staff who were in contact with any infected person
  • If an outbreak occurs (an outbreak is any traced transmission occurring at a school), the building is to quarantine/close for a period of 1 week during which time instruction will go online
  • Staff and students are to wear PPE when in close proximity to each other.  When social distancing is possible it is the preferred method of management.
  • Any staff or student who does not follow PPE protocols is to be removed from interaction and re-trained
  • All staff are trained in PPE expectations prior to the beginning of school
  • All students are to be trained in PPE usage prior to beginning instruction
  • Heightened cleaning regimes are to be followed in all classrooms, especially focusing on shared work spaces and technology.  All will be sanitized at the end of each period
  • Classes will be quad-mestered to reduce traffic, but secondary schools will be open all day on a regular schedule
  • Lunches are to take place in quad-mestered classes
  • Strict hall-pass protocols are to be in place to minimize wandering and out of class interaction
  • No student has locker access during pandemic protocols
  • Students will be required to wear masks while bussing, but normal bussing loads will occur
  • Students will be trained to minimize physical contact while bussing or transitioning between classes
  • Any student who does not comply with COVID19 safety training will be re-trained
  • Students or families unwilling to comply with pandemic safety requirements are to be withdrawn from physical schooling if re-training proves ineffective and offered remote learning options with credible expectations and work required or credits will not be granted
  • All staff and students will be subject to random temperature tests
  • Any staff or student who show fever will be spot tested for COVID19
  • If COVID19 is found to be present, the staff or student with it are to be immediately isolated from the school population and sent home for a minimum of 2 weeks quarantine (remote learning is expected to continue unless symptoms are severe)
  • If COVID19 is found through tracing to be transmitting between people in a school then an outbreak shall be declared and the school shall be closed and quarantined for one week and all shared surfaces disinfected.  During a school quarantine class work is expected to continue remotely
  • Upon return all staff and students will be tested for fever and any found will be tested for COVID19
  • Random spot checks for COVID19 testing will continue
  • School boards are responsible for putting testing procedures in place at every location that ensure a minimum of 10% of the school population will be tested for COVID19 each term
  • Any classroom which is so over full that it causes repeated closures is to be reassessed (and really should never happened in the first place because learning in such terrible conditions should never have happened to begin with), and reorganized to be more medically and pedagogically sound
  • Teachers are to provide all in-class material online
  • Where possible teachers are not to provide material on physical mediums (like paper) which can transmit the virus
  • All teachers are provided with technology that allows them to video any instruction which are then to be shared in online classrooms for any students unable to attend
  • Teachers are encouraged to use blended learning strategies that leverage remote learning systems even when face to face
  • Any shared workspaces or technology must be cleaned at the end of each class
  • Remote learning outcomes are to be assessed using the same criteria as in-class learning outcomes
There are countries in the world who have proven that with appropriate individual responsibility, access to cleaning and personal protective equipment and with regular monitoring and rapid response, COVID19 can be managed effectively.  If we’re going to argue that education is a vital service to society then we need to provide access to schooling to as many students as possible in as safe and transparently monitored an environment as possible.  This suggestion emphasizes the importance of social engineering in managing the virus individually while also making it clear what system responsibilities are in responding to an outbreak.  Instead of being paralyzed by this pandemic we should be applying these practical and effective solutions to managing it.

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Triumph Tiger 955i Valve Clearance Check

I just measured the valve clearances on the Tiger.  They’re supposed to be checked every 20,000kms, I’ve put 27k on it since I’ve had it and who knows when they were done previously, so this was well past due.

Getting to the valves isn’t that problematic since I’ve gotten gas tank removals down to under 10 minutes while I try and trace down this frustrating inability to idle.  Here are the numbers:

Cylinder             Intake                     Exhaust
             .13mm & .10mm       .20mm & .23mm
      2         .13mm & .10mm       .20mm & .20mm
      3         .13mm & .10mm       .20mm & .23mm

Intakes are supposed to be 0.10-0.15mm, so they’re all within spec.  Exhausts are supposed to be gapped at  0.15 to 0.20mm, so a couple are on the cusp, though they’re a tight 0.23mm (you have to push the spacer in there like you mean it – the .2mm is still snug, just not as).

Turning the engine with the rear wheel in top gear was pretty easy – don’t grab the spokes, use the tire, you get more torque and it turns pretty easily.  As you turn the back wheel you get the cams pointing up, which is when you check clearances by sliding a feeler gauge under the cam and above the shim.

This Spurtar 32 blade feeler gauge from Amazon is a nicely made thing that offered me a full range of tapered ends that covered what I needed for checking valve clearances on this 955i Triumph Tiger. 

With the Tiger’s timing pretty much to spec valve clearance wise, it suggests that my intermittent stalling problem isn’t related to valve clearances.  Working on older bikes (and watching Car S.O.S.) has me well aware of what fails on older vehicles:  RUBBER!  Perished rubbers are Tim’s go-to in Car S.O.S. when it comes to restoring an old vehicle – this Tim is thinking that’s the issue with this 17 year old Tiger too.

I spent today putting things back together and double checking everything.  The vacuum system that feeds the idle control wasn’t plugged in 1-2-3 (I had it 1-3-2).  That’s something stupid enough that it might be the culprit.  At this point I don’t care what it is, I just want the bike to idle to the point where I can depend on it to not stall on me and leave me hanging.

If I get it all back together and find that I’m still stuck with an intermittent stall I’m going to start systemically replacing all the rubbers in it.  Doing a deep cleaning on the fuel injectors is an idea too.  I ran into an old guy at Canadian Tire who swore by Sea Foam for cleaning fuel systems, so I got a can.  I’ve got some in the Tiger tank for the rebuild which will hopefully be done by tomorrow.  In a perfect world the Tiger will be back to normal and I can go after the valves in the winter if I’m so inclined.  If it’s still stalling out on me, It’ll be a perished rubber hunt next.

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Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I just finished this book.  It’s the first book I’ve finished digitally, I’m more of a paper and ink reader, but I thought I’d give this a go on my phablet.

The narrative is based on a man and his son doing a cross country trip on a motorcycle in the 1970s.  The story focuses on that quiet mind you experience as you make miles on two wheels.  While some people’s mind wander while riding, the narrator of this hefty tome starts with an examination of the basic mechanics of motorcycle maintenance but quickly wanders into a philosophical deconstruction of Greek philosophy and its effects on Western thinking.

If you’ve got a background in philosophy it’s fairly easy to follow, if you don’t you’re probably going to be wondering what the hell is going on. Persig likes to wander into complicated philosophical arguments with little warning.

The book is full of some real gems in terms of how we approach basic mechanics as well as life in general, but it can get pretty full of itself as well.

“Is it hard?’
Not if you have the right attitude. It’s having the right attitude that’s hard.”
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values

To further complicate things the author is battling with his alter-ego as he recovers from electroshock therapy.  No, this isn’t an easy read, though it’s worth it if you can get through it.  I suspect this is a book many people have purchased but few have finished.  It sure looks smart on your bookshelf though.

Last year I read Shopclass as Soulcraft, which I’d recommend as a much more accessible read if you’re interested in getting philosophical through the lens of motorbiking.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a classic, and it has attained a kind of cult status in philosophy and motorcycle literature.  I’d recommend reading Crawford before you take a run at Persig.  Reading a review of Western philosophy wouldn’t hurt either.

Digital Collars

Originally published on Dusty World in April, 2014:

Wise Europeans have begun enacting legislation to protect people from the relentless onslaught of digital noise.  Coincidentally, I’ve recently had a number people lamenting the digital ties that bind them.  An article on how students can’t hold a conversation any more and a moody French art film on digital alienation followed:

LOST MEMORIES (French, English Subtitles) from Francois Ferracci on Vimeo.

This past weekend I had an elearning student send an email Friday afternoon and then shrilly demand, Monday morning, a response.  I haven’t heard back from them yet, but I did point out they were getting a detailed response to their email the next school day.  Ironically, that student has never logged in on a weekend and has frequently been weeks late handing in work, but perhaps we aren’t all held to the same standards of immediate access.  That people can yank on that digital leash and demand our attention regardless of their own competence is an irritation.

Another teacher mentioned how his smartphone is spoiling his hunting.  He used to get himself up into his hide and then settle down for some meditative and quiet hours communing with nature.  The last couple of times, deep in the woods, he’s been so busy keeping up with texts and social media that he forgot to commune with anything.  

The same teacher also mentioned that he has called students out for answering texts while in the middle of a working machine shop.  They often tell him that it’s their parents texting them.  He takes the phone and texts the parents saying that the student is busy and should be paying attention to what is happening (it is a machine shop).  It seems parental expectations have piggybacked on invasive digital practices.

One of the reasons I enjoy me motorbike so much is that I can’t be doing anything else while I’m on it, though apparently others have found a way.  The operation of the bike occupies my mind and body completely, it’s very therapeutic living completely in the moment like that.  That the information technology around us constantly pulls us out of the present is a problem we need to resolve.  Maybe the French aren’t out to lunch in trying to protect people from this expectation of being permanently leashed to our information stream.

From the frustration of sitting behind a car at a green light because the driver is distracted (thought they aren’t supposed to be), to helicopter parents being constantly in touch with students, perhaps it’s time for educators to start charting a more socially responsible approach to digital intrusion.

Note:  In case you think it ends there, here is another sad ode to social media, it’s becoming a meme!


Educational Bourgeoisie

A couple of months ago Alanna did a podcast with Albert Fong and myself on seminal books from our adolescence. I was all about Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers when I was a teen.  It felt somewhat biographical (I joined cadets because my friend did – like Juan, the main character in the novel), but in retrospect the philosophy in the novel is what really struck home because it emphasized a clarity of purpose that I’ve always found elusive.  At various points in the novel Heinlein goes to great lengths analyzing the failures of Twentieth Century thinking.  When Juan is in officer training he gets to the bottom of why the robotically armoured mobile infantry of the 23rd Century are willing to have themselves launched out of an orbiting spaceship and ‘dropped’ into a terrifying war zone:

“The root of our morale is: “Everybody works, everybody fights.” An M.I. doesn’t pull strings to get a soft, safe job; there aren’t any – all “soft, safe” jobs are filled by civilians; that goldbricking private climbs into his capsule certain that everybody, from general to private, is doing it with him. Light-years away and on a different day, or maybe an hour or so later—no matter. What does matter is that everybody drops.

…many armies in the past commissioned 10 per cent of their number, or even 15 per cent—and sometimes a preposterous 20 per cent! This sounds like a fairy tale but it was a fact, especially during the XXth century. What kind of an army has more “officers” than corporals? (And more non-coms than privates!)

An army organized to lose wars—if history means anything. An army that is mostly organization, red tape, and overhead, most of whose “soldiers” never fight.”
(Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers)

I don’t know where we are in Ontario education when it comes to teachers who are teaching versus teachers who are getting paid as teachers but aren’t, but if you factor in all the support positions across the system I suspect that 20% is optimistic.  For every teacher earning a teacher’s salary that doesn’t teach, classroom teachers carry the burden.  When classroom average sizes increase (as they seem to every contract these days), you seldom see support positions disappear.  The education system is much more hierarchical than you might think.

At the school level we’ve already got a number of teachers working in non-instructional roles, but, like the 20th Century military that Heinlein criticizes, the fairy tale of a system with too much support and not enough boots on the ground continues at the board level where you find people earning teacher salaries doing administrative jobs ranging from shuffling health and safety paperwork to managing budgets.  In addition to making teacher pay without teaching, each of these support roles has to be supported by a multitude of larger classes in order to keep a 23 students to each ‘teacher’ average ratio.

The only place the education system ever seems to want to make cuts or create harsh, standardized testing to assess effectiveness is in the classroom.  Meanwhile, there is a hidden bureaucracy that remains untouched by cuts that hurt how children learn.

I’ve had a go at this before on Dusty World, but what kicked it off this time was a writing gig that came up recently.  I took a swing at it and was surprised to get a call back.  Why was I surprised?  These kinds of jobs tend to get passed around in that insular group of educational bourgeoisie who operate beyond the classroom.  Unsurprisingly, I appeared to be the only classroom teacher in the meeting.  I was then stunned when I was told that instead of actually creating subject specific material for this subject council we were going to create material that supported the specialty programming that everyone else in the group ran as their day job.  A guidance councillor who isn’t even qualified in this subject area then stated that we’d be writing support material for other subjects as well.  This got me quite angry.  I thought the purpose of subject councils was to support their subjects.  The long and the short of this very frustrating interaction is that I seem to have been removed from the program.

I’m still boiling about this as I look at my upcoming dangerously over-full, under equipped classes. Instead of helping me and thousands of other teachers protect our programs,  this subject council is busy feeding the educational bourgeoisie a second pay-cheque to support what they’re already doing in their day jobs at a board office.

I’m feeling very much a part of educational proletariat right now, but then all I do is actually teach. Heinlein was right, your morale takes a real kick in the head when you realize you’re doing the job others found their way out of as soon as they possibly could.

Were it the 23rd Century and humanity were united in an intergalactic war against insects intent on destroying us, I’d be proud to call myself a mobile infantryman doing a difficult job while knowing the organization I work with and the society it is serving recognizes and supports that difficult effort organizationally. Instead I work in Ontario public education.

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