Uprooted

This post is written in order to explain some of the back story for a blog post on ETFO’s Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning blog.

In 1978, my family packed up and moved from a very small western town in Wyoming to Toronto. At the time, it was a devastating life event. Everything and everyone I knew was in flux. Where would we live? Would the people there be nice to us? Even though I was Canadian by birth, I feared being treated like a stranger in my own country.  Needless to say, I was not thrilled to be uprooted and then replanted. Worse than that, I felt alone.

Who knew, in hindsight, that a new learning adventure would unfold in the Summer of 1978?

A home in a new neighbourhood – Jane and Finch.
A new school(my 3rd in as many years) – first experience with multiculturalism.
A new grade(7 – awkward).

On the first day of school, I am taken outside to my new class which was located in an L-shaped porta-pack. By this point, some doubts were forming. Why the heck, can’t this school afford real classrooms like back in Wyoming?  The door opens and I am nudged in. Suddenly it felt like a new prisoner being thrown into general population. The eyes of my new classmates glared as if they’d been rudely awakened from a deep sleep. Why wasn’t anyone wearing bell bottoms like me?

I missed my home, my friends, my town. I missed being able to walk to the YMCA after school. I missed my dishwasher job at the deli, and I missed the mountains. Where were the mountains? When we left Canada in 1970 there were mountains.

That first week I realized that some people were nice, others indifferent, and that others were just mean. It took time to find a friend, and that came with many awkward lessons. What did any of us have in common at first? I had a western drawl, a bowl haircut and wore hand me downs. With time, I found out where I fit in thanks to two friends named Jerry B and Terry L, where the Becker’s store was along the way home, and how to hold a hockey stick.

There were tears, fist fights(sorry mom), angry words, and frustration that eventually gave way to acceptance, understanding, and friendships. And then there was my first school dance. DON’T ask! That was more about pre-adolescent survival than anything else. Although, the Led Zeppelin was a welcome relief to overcome the Disco.

And new subjects, like French and Italian. Did I mention that the history was completely different from what I was taught? Where were the rockets red glare and waving flags? Or, that I had to use something called the Metric System for measurement?

And then we moved again and it started all over again at new school in a different neighbourhood of Toronto. I remember my dad saying how adversity was character building and that there is always something to learn through all of these opportunities.

Fast forward to 2017, I’m loving every minute of my 8th year as an educator, and not much has changed since 1978. A charismatic Prime Minister named Trudeau leads the country. Gas prices hover around a dollar – except that’s per litre instead per gallon. The world continues to become a smaller place as technology connects us all. Immigrants continue to make Canada their home and we become a stronger nation from our depth of diversity.

Disco still sucks. Standardized tests continue to be a reviling option in education. Dictators are still dictating in some familiar and not so expected places. Rush is still rocking, Quebec is still threatening to separate every now and again, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are still trying to hoist the Stanley Cup again.

I’m glad we moved back because Canada is the best country on the planet by the metric equivalent to a country mile (1.62 km). Thank you.

OK. Back to the Heart and Art blog.

 

 

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3 things

Warning: Do not read this post for more than 3 -4 minutes.

2016 is hurtling towards its calendar end and thoughts turn to a highlight reel retrospective heading for the history books. My mind is counting down around a repeating loop of ideas and reflections like a Space X reusable rocket. Well, maybe the baking soda and vinegar in a bottle type.

As the countdown approaches, I wanted to ask educators around the world to answer this question. If you’d like, think of it as a wishlist.

What would you change in education for 2017?

If you could change 3 things about education in 2017, knowing you wouldn’t fail, what would they be? I’m talking Astro Teller moon shot type changes here.

We use the word “moonshots” to remind us to keep our visions big — to keep dreaming. And we use the word “factory” to remind ourselves that we want to have concrete visions — concrete plans to make them real.  Astro Teller

Here are my 3 cannot-miss-the-spot-moonshot-thoughts.

  1. End the school to prison pipeline. My wish would be that schools could be funded with the same amount of money per student as the prisoners of our world. I believe that if we provided more funding for our schools, then our prisons would soon be very different and under-crowded spaces.I also believe that by stopping the flow of students from classrooms to courtrooms to cell blocks there would be a better standard of living for our entire society with opportunity for all. Imagine what could be done with all of the extra money if it was spent educating instead of incarcerating? Did you know that the students receive on average only 1/3 of the funding of prisoners?
  2. End standardized testing. What good is asking students to cram 10 months of learning into 9 months, only to stresst them out?  Why are millions of tax dollars being spent on tying up instructional time and resources in order to administer and assess students in grades 3, 6, 9, and 10. Is it worth quantifying education annually as a soapbox for politicians?Has anyone thought that the questions being asked are not considerate of skills and understandings required for the future? Cynical me asks, if there is a correlation to test results and real estate value? This appears to frequently be the case in my own province of Ontario, Canada. My own home price benefiting from strong results in neighbourhood schools.When I look at results by district in the U.S and compare facilities and funding I am left with many questions around equity and distribution of assets. In 2012, 1.7 billion dollars were spent on standardized testing in the U.S.A. If the financial cost doesn’t get your attention, how about the anxiety and mental health issues that result from many educators who feel they need to teach to the test instead of to the needs of their learners?
  3. End the global desk-wagging contest known as PISA and invest the money shelled out back into the students.Are you noticing a trend yet?To whose benefit do these tests and rankings really serve? How come the sample sizes are so small? Why are students and schools used as collateral/capital for international bragging rights? Did you know that schools can be recruited or selected to participate? How does this not scream of yielding a skewed sample? Why are so many countries not taking part in PISA? There are students learning on dirt floors or without access to any education at all. All the while a bunch of people in suits are deciding to see which privileged country’s students are number one.

It’s your turn to share 3 things. Shoot for the stars because you can. It will not be marked.
Countdown in 10, 9 … 3, 2, 1.

If you have made it this far, thank you for your interest in this topic. You are now past 3 minutes. Why not read on? Here is a very worthwhile reading list.

Pipeline to prison – https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/pipeline-to-prison

School-to-prison-pipeline – https://www.aclu.org/infographic/school-prison-pipeline-infographic?redirect=racial-justice/infographic-school-prison-pipeline

Project Liberty: School to prison pipeline –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXR51vZCfVY

How High-Stakes Testing Feeds the School-to-Prison Pipeline Infographic –  http://www.fairtest.org/pipeline-infographic

US should nix its federal department of education –  http://www.troymedia.com/2016/12/12/canada-proves-dont-need-federal-department-education/

School performance rankings from the Fraser Institute –  https://www.fraserinstitute.org/school-performance

How does a school district affect the value of your home (don’t miss comments) –

http://torontorealtyblog.com/archives/10020

The standardised test debate. Is EQAO good for education? (don’t miss comments) –

https://tapintoteenminds.com/the-standardized-test-debate-is-eqao-good-for-education/

School choice not the right choice for our kids –  http://www.freep.com/story/opinion/columnists/nancy-kaffer/2016/10/02/choice-schools-michigan/91240656/

Pisa and the creativity puzzle – http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/pisa-and-the-creativity-puzzle

The tower of PISA is badly leaning – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/03/24/the-tower-of-pisa-is-badly-leaning-an-argument-for-why-it-should-be-saved/?utm_term=.c813afeddee2

Remembrance and gratitude

Today I sit, move, teach, and learn without fear of war in the place I call home. Today I stand. Tomorrow I will do the same, and each day hereafter.

622px-lest_we_forget

photo by Hobvias Sudoneighm – Flickr, CC BY-SA2.0,

This week I seek to honour those who have sacrificed so much while never knowing the countless lives that were made better by their actions. This week I stand with those who have served.

This month I receive a torch; as mine to hold high to guard the flames of bravery, selflessness, virtue, and kindness that make our nation a light on a hill. This month I stand for those who serve.

This year I pause, again, to remember that those who have come before me have not served in vain. This year I stand for those who will serve in the future.

In my life there is still work to be done.

But for now, I am taking time to be still, to look back, and give thanks.
Lest we forget.