Sunday, 24 June 2012


In February (just over 4 months ago), I passed the 5000 page view mark in blogging Dusty World.  I'd been noticing how it was picking up as I posted more posts.  It had taken me 14 months to write the 5000 page view post.  I don't have any real breakout posts that went viral, or found their way into main stream media.  The advice I followed was to blog about what you want, how you want, as often as you can.  Even with that approach, Dusty World just passed ten thousand page views.

In seventeen weeks Dusty World has doubled its page views.  Still nothing viral or super catchy, the biggest post has a few hundred views, but there are now well over one hundred posts, and they all draw traffic from Google searches.  I'm still entirely satisfied with the professional focus of the blog and find it a powerful way to participate in and contribute to my personal learning network, as well as an opportunity to work out my own views on the challenges of teaching in a time of radical change.

Here are the stats:

The curve showing the growth of the blog since I started in November of '09 is the part that most interests me.  The growth curve varies in the short term, but the long term trend is obvious.  Some posts get more attention than others, but as long as I'm honestly pursuing a personal query about my profession, I'm happy with that variation.

I don't see me putting down blogging at any point in the near future.  This summer when I'm taking my computer teaching additional qualification I intend to blog extensively about the process... more grist for the dusty world mill.  How teachers teach teachers is a wonderfully self-reflexive moment in a teacher's career.  How we teach teaching digital technology whilst in the middle of a digital revolution feels historical.  What better way to reflect on that than in the new digital medium of blogging?

See you in another 10k for another meta-cognitive moment.

Friday, 22 June 2012

All Hands On Deck

One of those fun things about Twitter is that you can end up communicating with unexpected people.  The other day I got a response from the Press Secretary for the Ontario Liberal party.  

We're in a bit of a mess in Ontario.  Economically we're on the wrong end of history.  Once Canada's manufacturing heartland, now that North Americans don't make anything and just wait for shipping containers to arrive, Ontario has fallen on rough times.

To resolve these economic issues, and perhaps to catch some soft righties in the next election, our liberal minority government has decided that they don't have to negotiate contracts, can mandate teachers, doctors, firemen and other unions back to work, and will drastically scale back our agreements to balance a budget that got blown to pieces by a financial crisis the public sector had absolutely nothing to do with (bankers aren't being looked at to chip in on the deficit).

From the twitter feed: 

The STRONG ACTION being referred to by the Liberal Press Secretary strikes me as disingenuous. From what I've seen of what's coming, strong action means freezing the pay of the lowest paid teachers and extending the pay grid so that the lowest paid teachers take even longer to make what more senior teachers doing the same work make.

Teachers new to the profession are a pretty easy target.  They have little or no say in the union that will arbitrate the contract and they're so desperate for work, dangling at the bottom of a seniority system that cuts them first as our population produces less and less kids, that they're not likely to struggle too much as they get neutered.

My comments on twitter stand.  If this is really an emergency that requires STRONG (or even just drastic) action, then let's get serious about streamlining the education system without simply attacking its weakest employees.  My greatest fear is that gutting teacher pay will reduce the quality of the profession and ultimately jeopardize Ontario's excellent record in education.

EQAO is a massively expensive standardize testing system that we brought up from New Jersey that has produced nothing of value.  The US system which is so enamoured with standardized testing has dropped like a stone through world rankings, while Canada and Ontario especially have continued to produce some of the strongest students in the world.  Finland, one of the few places ahead of us, has removed standardized testing entirely.  Instead of cutting the income of thousands of young teachers across the province, that same generation you're frustrated with for not powering the economy like previous generations did, cut the EQAO, the entire thing, bin it.

Know how many places publicly fund Catholic schools like we do in Ontario?  None, just Ontario.  If we're really in a financial emergency, why is this a sacred cow?  Amalgamating Ontario's English Public, French Public, Catholic English and Catholic French schools into one system would allow for economies of scale and would prevent unfair distribution of resources.  It would also be fantastically cheaper than the current four tier system.

I have no problem with people funding their own education if their religious views and pocket books are deep enough, but expecting an evidently broke government to do it seems ridiculous. How about some real strong action Dalton?  If you're going to attack the youngest, lowest paid teachers, why not address gaping inadequacies in the system?  

I used to teach in the GTA.  My public school worked hard to integrate Canadians from all over the world, many of them ESL.  Whenever we saw Catholic school data from the same area, their ESL programs were drastically smaller.  Hearing them then crow about how high their literacy test scores were in comparison just made me angry.  When you can pick and choose your teachers and students to create a mono-cultural climate, you're likely to do better in standardized tests because you've standardized your population.  Let's get rid of that.

This isn't an indictment of religious or social expression in schools either.  My current school runs a religiously based international mission to great success, and it is open to all denominations.  At previous schools I've seen energetic and popular Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and other student groups who had a very positive influence on the school community.  Then again, I've also seen gay-straight alliances doing that, but only in public schools.

My last shot is at the union (of which I'm an active member).  Selling out our youngest members isn't a solution.  If this really is an 'all hands on deck' emergency, let's spread the joy.  How about teachers who stay past their retirement date not getting paid sick days?  These teachers are making top salary and are often staying on to plump up their already sizeable pension (one that will evidently have evaporated by the time boomers are done with it).  For every ten of them you shake loose into retirement, you'd be able to hire ten young, energetic new teachers at a 50+% saving... and then they could afford to start families, and buy houses and cars, which, you know, help the economy.

If this really is an emergency, I'm left wondering why the lowest paid people on the totem pole are bearing the brunt of it.

If this really is an emergency, I'm left wondering why we aren't cutting redundancy and pointless systems.

If it's just politics, then I can expect to pay for everyone else again and no amount of reason will change that.  My gen-x scepticism is running high.

Monday, 11 June 2012

emotional intelligence

How we remove life experiences from life
I've had a tough week.  Whenever I thought about a parent dying, I figured I would rationalize my way through it.  It turns out you can't do that at all.  The emotional journey I've been on has been as rich, complex and valuable as any rational mental exercise I've ever experienced, and it's only just begun.  Not having a rational solution has made me realize how much we're driven to that single mode of thinking.  No where is that more evident than in education.

Emotional intelligence is more than ignored, in fact, it's actively discouraged in school.  Curriculum and bureaucratic process do everything they can to take the personal, emotive elements out of education; the fact that we teach kids in factory-like rows demonstrates clearly the singular approach we take to learning.  Emotionality is an embarrassment when it happens; it certainly isn't a a form of human knowing we develop and nurture in modern education.  In fact, about the only time we do acknowledge emotional intelligence is when students don't demonstrate it, then we tend to suspend them.

I went in to school last week for a day in between trying to sort out cremations, services and Byzantine government requirements, not to mention storms of crying, because a senior academic class of mine where contacting me directly asking for clarification on year end assignments.  Empathy wasn't something that could (or should) have been expected.  If students aren't expected to develop it in school, we shouldn't be surprised if they don't display it.

The class I was most worried about, a primarily applied level media arts class, were fantastic.  They responded to my request for them to get their work done on their own and were empathetic to my situation.  Their response seemed genuine and we all felt better for the talk.  The academic classes sent condolences, but weren't, for the most part, willing to help me by helping themselves.  The game they've learned to play so well is between them and the system, and their teacher is just the delivery man who should be delivering, regardless of what might be happening to him.

If we defined learning effectiveness in terms of emotional intelligence, I wonder what schools would look like.  I suspect a number of teachers wouldn't be teaching.  I suspect a number of teachers who found themselves in trouble for being too passionate in school wouldn't be suspended for it.  I suspect a number of academically proficient students would find themselves disadvantaged.  I suspect student engagement wouldn't be a problem.

Unions are terrified of emotive responses in teachers, and actively discourage them because students aren't the only ones to lack a developed emotional intelligence.  We're developing a society that is emotionally bankrupt while entirely focusing on rationality.  We want students to engage, but be impartial with the process, then we complain when they don't seem to care enough.  We want learning to happen, but we don't want to let it be messy.  We want rational control over emotional engagement.

Boards come at it from the other side, driven by lawyers to reduce lawsuit visibility with their employees.  The whole affair is sat upon by societal expectations that press teachers to hold to professional standards (code for do everything at a distance) in all aspects of their lives, whether at work or not.  And ultimately to uphold that pinnacle of modern thought: rationalism.  If it can't be measured or calculated, it has no real value, and is dangerous.  Modern society won't create any Picasos or van Goghs or Shakespeares, we're too busy building data and temples to it, like Google and Facebook.

The whole thing leaves me feeling like, as a teacher or even just a human being, I'm left unable to express my grief, or even expect basic levels of dignity when I try to take time away to deal with my loss.  Between the needs of my students, some of those same students yelling at me while I sit grieving in my backyard trying to write a very difficult eulogy on a Friday night, and the calculations of grief in my absences, I feel exhausted by my professional obligations.  I can't even respond as a person when rudely interrupted.

All sides go on and on about the power differential, about how you as a teacher have all the power.  I don't see it.  I'm a minor paper pusher in a massive bureaucracy that seems intent on minimizing any professional latitude I once had, and diminishing any opportunity for emotional development with students in order to ensure a clinical and generalized success.  Students are distanced from their learning, I can't blame them for treating me like a thing, they are encouraged to see me as such.

Education has, like everything else, passed through industrialization and been changed into a Tayloresque production line.  What used to be a master/apprentice form of learning that was intensely personal and developed over years has turned into a bureaucratically driven production line focused on getting as many people through it in as antiseptic a manner as possible.

Every one of us will face death in our lives, yet everyone seems profoundly uncomfortable with it... like a room of children being expected to figure out calculus.  Shouldn't education be a key part of learning empathy?  And anger?  And grief?  And then learning how to best express it?  Emotion ignored doesn't disappear.