Monthly Archives: May 2011

Emails and Education Make for Bad Bedfellows…but so do Educators and Students

Personally I think emailing parents and students is a bad idea.  Parent-teacher-student communication is best left in person or on the telephone.  I’ve been saying that for ages but there are many secondary school Ontario educators who regularly email families and students.  Yipe.

Our industry mag, Professionally Speaking, sent out an insert about electronic communication between teachers and students.  I juuuust knew there was a reason I didn’t like that idea. The insert warned that allegations of an improper relationship could be made against a teacher via emailing.  Well, no duh. There were a number of specific guidelines (warnings) pertaining to educators and email:

    1. professional boundaries can blur
    2.  know and respect proper professional boundaries with students, even when students initiate electronic interaction
    3. the immediacy and simplicity of a text message…may lead to longer, informal conversation…rules may relax and informal salutations may replace time-respected forms of professional address
    4. the dynamic between a member and a student is forever changed when the two become “friends” in an online environment
    5. online identities and actions are visible to the public and can result in serious repercussions…in theory anyone can access the users’ musings, photos and information…further, the words can be altered, forwarded and misquoted.

        Once a person posts their pics online they become

public property

        .  This is true of everyone who uses the internet. And as point #5 states anyone can access your photos and info.  The scary thing is not only can a person be misquoted but their pics can be altered for the worse.  Consider what would happen to a teacher’s career if a

falsified explicit photograph

      of that teacher showed up on facebook. Even when an investigation proves the picture to be false that persons’s reputation is forever compromised.

We seem to be hearing a lot about inappropriate teacher-student relationships lately. I believe many of these relationships begin and are maintained with electronic communication whether via email, facebook, myspace, and other social media.Often allegations of sexual abuse or a sexual relationship are a direct result of emails between students and teachers.  The student fantasizes about the teacher. Hey, kids are gullible and they fantasize at that age but when a teacher indulges that fantasy by answering flirty emails, that’s asking for trouble.  That is a very powerful relationship in the young student’s mind whether or not that was the teacher’s intention..

Aside from the obvious crime of sexual assault in this next video, perhaps teachers with immature emotions look at inappropriate emails as flirty love notes, the type kids would send to each other: Teacher accused of rape

In this saccharine video, a well-intended administrator offers a hand-written note to teachers’ friends….this is not a safe move and not just because letter writing always leaves a person susceptible to accusations. What if contacting these “special” people in these teachers’ lives caused problems? Let’s keep the electronic communications to Ontario’s report cards. If educators want to write notes and messages to students, perhaps they should adhere to this method and this method only. No allegations of misconduct comes out of a cursive writing lesson and even better, students learn something that doesn’t compromise their gullibility and educators teach without compromising their careers.


Mockery of the Education Profession

Brace yourself for this blog. Just like any profession education draws a mixed bag of nuts. Most teachers have decent intentions and work hard to educate kids.  But why is it that one (or 2?) bad apple in the barrel has to exist, let alone ruin it for the rest of us? Case in point:  There was an educator at a prestigious boys’ school in Toronto, Lorne Cook, who created and performed a “mock kidney operation” in class with his teenage male students. His “mock operation” was considered off the charts in terms of brilliance; he got the premier’s Excellence in Teaching Award. Cook taught courses at OISE, The University of Toronto. He was well-liked.

Here’s the bad news.  Cook was using his mock operation to sexually assault young boys.  Cook used the excuse to tell his chosen “patient” that he needed to wear a catheter  in case he had to use the washroom during the surgery.

Finally one kid couldn’t grin and bare it and informed his parents what happened in Mr. Cook’s (Weird) Science class.  The police arrested Cook on sexual assault charges. He was convicted and is no longer a teacher. I don’t know how many kids suffered through this unique form of pedophilia but didn’t Cook choose the best profession to get access to kids? Another strike against educators’ reputations in Ontario.

If you want to read the court transcript it’s here.

My grad class at OISE wasn’t sure how Cook’s actions amounted to sex assault since this particular roomful of teachers aren’t perverts (or lawyers, or perverted lawyers). If you read the transcript above, the judge explained that “sexual assault” under the law is “an act of power, aggression and control“.

  •  In some of the cases, the judge declared that Cook didn’t commit the acts for a sexual purpose, but some of they were a sexual “assault” because of the area Cook touched.
  •  In a case with R.B., Cook was not guilty of sexual interference but he was guilty of sexual assault
  •  On another occasion (A.G.), he was not guilty of indecent assault. You with me?
  • Out of 4 complaints, only 2 led to sex assault convictions.
  • The motive to prove guilt or innocence had to be touching the boys for a sexual purpose and there was a case of reasonable doubt.
  •  The judge explained that the definition of indecency and sexual assault under the law were also key factors in determining guilt or innocence.
  • Thank god I stuck to teaching.

Video: Fired teacher arrested on sex abuse charges  (unrelated case)

There are numerous male and female teachers who are pedophiles, meaning they engage in sex with children under the age of 18, the age of majority. However the age of sexual consent is 16 but a teacher who becomes involved with a 16-year-old will lose their license to teach, will not be permitted near schoolchildren again, and rightly so: a sexual relationship with a student is a criminal act due to the teacher’s position of authority over the student. View a video Teacher accused of sex abuse.
Pedophilia doesn’t just happen. It is a carefully planned process that develops from years of experience. Consider:

  • Pedophiles get jobs or volunteer for positions that allow them easy access to children.
  • They live across the street from schools or parks or recreation centres.
  • They’re the neighbourhood Mr. Mom who always has kids coming over to hang out.
  • They encourage illegal behaviour, such as drinking alcohol and smoking pot (lowers the defenses).
  •  They have Nintendo games and loud music.
  • They target lonely kids without friends and a solid family structure.
  • They hang out at arcades looking for a kid who has no money…the pedophile is happy to spare some change.

If there is a sliver of hope in anything to do with pedophilia it’s this: most pedophiles do not act on their urges. They fantasize and have other (weird) outlets but they don’t actually pursue children or youth.

Someone should have told Lorne Cook.


Ontario Education and LGBT Youth

Shout out to all Ontario teachers and administrators, as well as the Ontario Ministry of Education:  there is no such thing as Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) people in the Ontario curriculum. They are absent from literature (unless they present as tragic or abhorrent figures), they aren’t discussed in history or social sciences, they simply aren’t there. LGBT doesn’t exist. Zero. Nada.

Of course you know that’s ridiculous. Excluding LGBT orientation in health and wellness, sexual education and the general curriculum is to ostracize, discriminate and tolerate bullying against LGBTs. That’s a no-no.  In fact it eradicates the effect of anti-bullying campaigns: all that effort and money for nothing.  Schools have to include LGBT experience into curriculum including novels, texts, videos, gay clubs, anti-bullying campaigns, etc.  This doesn’t mean schools are promoting or encouraging homosexual or lesbian behaviour (heaven forbid…quick get grandma her smelling salts).  It means educators won’t be obligated to treat people like a disease because of their orientation and lifestyle.

Here’s a little non-exclusive (irony) vocabulary list educators and the Ministry might wish to consider when writing and teaching curriculum (pay attention now, there will be a test on this later):

LGBT  –  Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender
Transgender – a person who is born physically as one sex but identifies psychologically and sexually with the opposite sex.
Coming out” – revealing one’s sexual orientation.
Closeted” – an LGBT who has not “come out.”
Heterosexism – one that the Ontario Ministry will recognize: the belief that heterosexuality is superior to all other sexual orientation.
Heterosexual Privilege: The legal and social advantages enjoyed by heteros but not necessarily homos.
Homophobia – one that many educators (alas) will relate to: a fear of or hatred for homosexuals.
Queer – another term for LGBT.
Ally – something every LGBT and hetero should aspire to be: a friend and advocate of the LGBT community, including all legal and social rights enjoyed by heteros….and freedom from coercion.
Advocate – something all hetero and homo educators should become: a person who educates, works to end intolerance, and supports LGBT rights. As a heterosexual educator, I include myself proudly in this category.   I also took the pledge on It Gets Better. Check out my latest youtube advocacy video:
It gets better – LGBT anti-bullying movement. 

Need reasons to include LGBT people in Ontario curriculum? Educators focus stoically on;

  • academic achievement
  • parent-school relationships
  • safe, supportive schools
  • school-community partnerships.

Let’s compare these goals with the following facts.

  1. 1/3 of teens report being bullied because they are/perceived to be LGBT. Safe, supportive schools anyone?
  2. 90% of all LGBT students are physically/sexually assaulted during a given school year. Ditto..btw, the Ontario Safe Schools Act is a legal mandate.
  3. 16% of students skip classes due to fear of bullying/assault. Academic achievement is pretty low on the priority list when a kid fears for her or his well-being I should think.
  4. 28% of LGBT students drop out of SS due to physical and verbal abuse. Once again, so much for academic success.
  5. LGBT students are at greater risk of academic failure.
  6. 50% of all LGBT students are rejected by their parents. Parent-school relationships won’t happen without familial and school acceptance of LGBT youth.
  7. 26% of LGBT students are forced to leave home due to conflicts over their sexual orientation. Communities lose:  homeless youth live in poverty, rely upon the welfare system turn to crime for survival, drug use and prostitution increases and youth who could have contributed to the community are denied that opportunity…and so is the community.
  8. 40% of homeless youth are LGBT. See # 7.

Educators love stats. They love surveys. They love raw data. Here it is: Safe Schools for Every Child.

Interculture is the New Multiculture

You’ve heard the expression multiculturalism. Nowadays the buzzword is interculturalism, meaning not so much a diversity among the many cultures that comprise this country but acceptance rather than tolerance, unity rather than diversity. Is it possible to establish this mindset in Canadian schools? This is one of the primary issues in education today. How do we reflect the many cultures in Canada without thereby establishing “white” as a dominant race?  Certainly we cannot establish it as a dominant culture, since there does not exist one caucasian culture in Canada.

Let’s think about that for a minute.  The lifestyles of east coast Caucasians is very little like that of white Torontonians, whose lifestyles (and these vary amongst each other within the city) are unlike whites living in the prairies and finally those on the west coast in B.C. In fact, whites living among whites live with very different value systems, traditions and religions. A dominant culture in Canada? I don’t think so. That being the case why is it that Ontario curriculum focuses chiefly on whites, that is in history, social sciences, art and literature?  Lots of Shakespeare on the English literature menu but I don’t believe there is any Angelou. (You don’t even know who she is do you?) Plenty of generic, “primary” songs for children in grades K – 3 but very seldom do I hear any music from Jamaica, Portugal, Greece or India.  In fact after 40 years the Ontario curriculum still stresses using Peter and the Wolf to teach children musical instruments. True, Peter and the Wolf is a 1936 Russian fable written by Sergei Prokofiev but teachers don’t teach this history to children. Kids don’t know about Russia and about the reason behind the particular animals and the plot to the story. It’s a music lesson, plain and simple.

We have a white curriculum. “Add-ons” such as “multicultural festivals” and “international night” are offered by schools to supplement curriculum by way of apology. These are beautiful ceremonies and they do teach kids and parents interesting facts about other countries, but isn’t that exactly what is wrong with our curriculum? That type of celebration encourages and promotes diversity. It does not unify Canada’s many integral cultures. video: Napoleon Dynamite Flash Mob

This is not educators’ faults. It is not school boards’ faults. The Ontario Ministry of Education is where curriculum change begins and ends. No one else in Ontario in the public school system has the authority to create and modify current curriculum. No one else is considered qualified, whether that is true or not. Of course Leona Dombrowsky (love the surname…wonder where she’s originally from?), the Minister of Education has more pressing matters such as government funding for educational programs, schools, and educational materials. Doubltess, these are important matter,s but before the Ministry invests and distributes anymore white educational programs throughout the province, can we have a review of their content from an intercultural perspective?

Stand By Goddard’s Firing for Anti-Gay Tweets

begins at 2:08

Damian Goddard got what he deserves

and I stand by that comment.  Who is he to espouse (on twitter to millions of people no less) that gay marriage is wrong?  He claims his Roman Catholicism as the reason for his perspective but that’s simply an excuse that doesn’t hold up.  Many people are RC and they do not support laws against homosexual marriage. Nowhere in the New Testament of the Bible (or anywhere in the Bible for that matter) does it say that homosexuals and lesbians should not get married.  Presumably the New Testament, which documents the life and works of Jesus Christ, (are you listening Goddard….irony that the root word of his name is God….that must be why he thinks so highly of himself), is the Testament by which contemporary Catholics live their lives. Jesus was very specific about one of His most signficant messages was “judge not lest ye be judged”. I love that one. Okay so I’m judging Goddard just now (oh, the irony), but (there is always a but) his perspective is nothing short of cruel and mine is humane.  I figure that justifies me claiming Goddard got what he deserved.

Every time a public figure takes a stand against gay/lesbian rights, a vulnerable young person who is LGBT suffers. They already doubt themselves as people, as family members, as productive citizens who have every right to respect. They haven’t yet discovered ItGetsBetter, a site promoted by people worldwide to support LGBT youth, including Obama, Jack Layton, celebrities such as Natalie Portman and Ellen Degeneres , human rights groups, non-profit organizations and many others.
video:  Obama: It Gets Better 
video:  Ellen Degeneres about Gay Suicide
video: Tim Gunn: It Gets Better

Perhaps if Goddard knew about the teen suicide and homeless statistics in Canada he might, just might, feel differently:

  1. 30% of all teen suicides are due to teens who are LGBT and are suffering because of their sense of isolation and being bullied by their peers.
  2. Many teens live in abject fear of being “ousted” by a peer.
  3. Teens feel like abnormalities and black sheep in their families because of their orientation.
  4. Teens often turn to drugs and alcohol to escape the pain of dealing with their sexual orientation.
  5. Many teens drop out of high school due to bullying for being gay or lesbian.
  6. Some teens are kicked out of their homes for being LGBT and become homeless.
  7. Homeless youth increase the incidence of poverty and crime in Canada.
  8. Breaking the poverty cycle as a homeless youth is nearly impossible…less than 1% of teens achieve it.
  9. 40% of homeless teens are LGBT.
  10. There is one teenage suicide every 40 seconds in Canada.

Goddard claims a true marriage (for example with his wife, whom he did not clarify as female, since gays and lesbians can consider themselves husbands and wives btw) is a heterosexual union.  Odd.  What about the 71,783 divorces in Canada in 2001 (last known compilation of stats) and the 26,577 divorces in Ontario in 2001?  True marriage.  Ah, so nice to see it last. What about heterosexual marriages plagued by drug and alcohol addiction, spouse abuse, child abuse, abject poverty and a lack of encouragement for children to complete their education? Are those true marriages? What if Goddard discovered one or all of his kids were LGBT? Hopefully he would turn to the AA prayer (especially since he is RC) overcome his family’s inevitable struggle:

 God grant me the courage to change what I can change
To accept what I cannot change
And the wisdom to know the difference.

I’m quite certain God forgives Goddard for his homophobic views but I’m just as certain it is a blessing that he was fired. The best recourse for Goddard now is to visit It Gets Better and take the pledge against bullying and homophobic attitudes against gays and lesbians.  Take the pledge, Goddard. And stand by it. It Gets Better
Youtube: Animation – It Gets Better by LLahey

Children’s Literature – History Revealed Through Shoes

Historically children’s literature was written with both a moral and political purpose, usually depicting extremes of character and the political climate of the times. Folk tales were explicitly gruesome, depicting torture and death for children who misbehaved, or riches and rewards for children of good character. These stories were not considered unduly harsh, since children’s roles in the stories often represented adults and children alike, as well as the economic and political conditions at the time in which they were written.

In Hans Christian Anderson’s tale The Red Shoes, the heroine, Karen, fools her stepmother into purchasing her a pair of leather red shoes, and wears them to Church, a blatant sign of disrespect and personal vanity. The red shoes themselves punish Karen. They force her to dance mercilessly until an executioner cuts off her feet to rid her of the shoes. These moralistic folk stories were typical for their day.  It was told from a religious perspective: Karen attended a Christian mass and her shoes were red, generally known as the devil’s colour. Andersen explained the origins of the story in an incident he witnessed as a small child. By his report, his father was sent a piece of red silk by a rich lady, to make a pair of dancing shoes for her daughter. Using red leather along with the silk, he worked very carefully on the shoes, only to have the rich lady tell him they were trash. She said he had done nothing but spoil her silk and he cut up the shoes in front of her. Story:  The Red Shoes

However shoes also brought rewards to characters of purity. In Little Goody Two Shoes, a folk tale penned in 1765, Marjery is presented with a pair of black leather shoes that console her after her brother has gone missing. Marjery is a a child of exemplary behaviour, hence the title.  She grows up to marry a rich widower, another reward for her good character. Story: Little Goody Two Shoes

Cinderella also illustrates a heroine of pure character. It is a small, glass slipper that provides Cinderella an escape from a life of drudgery as a reward for her good behaviour. Although the Disney version of Cinderella doesn’t emphasize the size of the glass shoe, the original version centered around its tiny size. For this reason historians believe the Cinderella story might have been based on the tradition of foot binding in Chinese culture. However there is evidence that the Cinderella was of Ancient Egyptian origin, and was recorded in the first year B.C.
story: The Original Cinderella Story 

Perhaps the most famous children’s shoes in literature belonged to Dorothy in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. However, unlike the previous folk tales, Oz was written for entirely political purposes. The movie adapted its own version of the ruby red shoes, as they were silver in the novel, a significant material for the story’s political theme. Dorothy represents Everywoman, beleaguered by the corrupt President of the United States, being Oz himself. Frank Baum wrote the story in 1900, 40 years after the civil war. It was written chiefly about the Midwestern states, where  silver was in plentiful supply. Private banks pretended that money was based on gold and used this deception to control the circulation of money in the states. Baum wanted money to be based on investments in silver which the banks would not be able to control because of its availability in the Midwest. Dorothy encounters three significant characters in her travels: the Scarecrow, representing the impoverished Midwestern farmer, the Tin Man, unemployed industrial workers, and the Cowardly Lion, politicians who had the power but lacked the courage to confront the private banks, or The Wicked Witch.  Story Background: The Story Behind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Interestingly, there were issues of a different type of political nature during the casting and filming of Oz. video:  Wizard of Oz Casting Tin Man

The Elves and the Shoemaker also presents the theme of poverty as an imposition by government and corporate enterprise. The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the socioeconomic conditions of the times. Robert E. Lucas Jr. was quoted as stating, “for the first time in history, the living standards of the masses of ordinary people have begun to undergo sustained growth. … Nothing remotely like this economic behavior has happened before.” Although this statement was true in terms of national averages, poverty-stricken people comprised the majority of the population. In fact most people suffered severe reductions in their living standards. However, the impoverished shoemaker attains wealth at the story’s end, a metaphor for the increased wealth of the overall nation.

The story also centres around the immorality of forced child labour in the form of the tiny elves who work without wages. There was limited opportunity for education except among the wealthy and the rising middle class, and as a result, children were expected to work. Employers paid a child less than an adult even though their productivity was comparable. Children as young as four were employed. Beatings and long hours were common, with some child coal miners working from 4 am until 5 pm. Conditions were dangerous: children were killed when they dozed off and fell into the path of the carts, while others died from gas explosions. Many children developed lung cancer and died before the age of 25. Workhouses sold orphans and abandoned children as “pauper apprentices“, working without wages for board and lodging. Those who ran away were whipped and returned to their masters, with some masters shackling them to prevent further escape attempts.  story: The Elves and the Shoemaker

The historic eras of children’s literature is usually woven into folk and fairy tales. Two central themes are that of poverty and moral character. Sometimes the latter is revealed through journeys into the unknown. Other times, it is objects such as shoes that bring the tales’ characters reward or punishment, depending upon their morality and behaviour.

prezi:  Shoes in Children’s Literature