Some Thoughts on Education – No Click-bait-y Titles Here

Anyone who has held a prolonged conversation with me can probably tell you there are several topics that will send me into a spiral or rants or musings, depending on the nature of the discussion. Oftentimes, we call this a “heavily-opinionated person”, and I can certainly attest to being someone under such a label (despite my general disdain for labels in general, more on that another time). My reasons for launching into these triads stem from a few different sources: the need to express an opinion, the desire to challenge my own thoughts and critical thinking and a plethora of minor reasons that are a little too tedious for my shockingly presently-focused mind to feel like rationalizing.

Chiefly among those reasons, however, is the need to voice my beliefs and thoughts about topics I have seen or read. My mind is a jumbled mess of thoughts and concepts at the best of times, and vocalizing these thoughts helps form them into concise statements and hypotheses. And one such topic that I find myself launching into rant-realms over is the land of education.

Now, I understand education is something of a hot-button topic (a phrase I didn’t think I’d ever use until now, which means I probably am misquoting or incorrectly using it), and everyone and their dog has an opinion on the matter. Teachers, students, parents, politicians, researchers and board members all have their opinions on what the educational system today is like and what it needs to do to improve, or conversely, what it needs to stop declining in quality.

It should come to no surprise that I, myself, am someone who has very charged and self-important beliefs on the quality of the school system in Canada (or at least in Ontario, as I understand there are minor nuances to the systems not only between countries, but between provinces as well). I mean, I possess all the warning flags of someone who has deep-rooted grievances with the current school system: I did poorly all through school due to a laundry list of personality and motivation flaws, I did not attend post-secondary education due to financial and personality flaws, and am largely against the commercialization of education due to financial and personal beliefs.

You might have noticed something of a trend in there somewhere.

Granted, I’m not so self-important as to believe that I am blameless in my current academic standing, nor do I honestly think that the problems that plagued me are anywhere near similar to those that bother other individuals or organizations. That’s why I make it a point to read up on different studies, articles or coverage of the ever-changing landscape of education. I also keep contact with several friends who are teachers at different levels in the school system (by that, I mean the range from kindergarten to high school, teachers to school board members, and even a couple of politicians) and am very careful to listen to those who have differing opinions on the school system than I (check out my piece on Echo Chambers in social media for more).

I also consider the opinions of those who have personal views on the nature of school because of life experience or spiritual beliefs, as these are both important aspects in understanding how we can better operate as a global community in our exceedingly diverse world. I’ve noticed several trends in these varied beliefs that sometimes I am, at first, inclined to argue against, but often have to sit back and think on until I can properly process what I’ve just learned.

There is one general consensus that I have noticed, however: very nearly everyone thinks the current academic landscape is broken or has gaping holes in operational efficiency/policy. Very seldom do we hear people discussing the accomplishments of a standardized educational system that has made significant leaps and jumps in how our brains have developed over the decades, let alone centuries or millennia of the history of education.

Instead, there seems to be an overwhelming belief that there is little good from our current school system. This generally stems, I have noticed, from small groups picking out an issue and inflating the damaging nature of said defect. This is not to say there are not dangerously broken systems in our schools; one needs only look at the academic disparities between both racially segregated or financially destitute schools to see things, two traits that are oftentimes linked. But some issues are only a part of a greater concern, and that is the need for hard evaluations on the intended direction that education serves as.

Now you start leaving the realm of hard, numerically provable evidence and get into the realm of cultural or philosophical reasoning. What EXACTLY is the purpose of education? This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer as it seems the intended purpose changes based on personal views.

I know it seems that I’ve performed a complete 180 from my original statement, but bear with me: it’ll all tie together in the end. I think.

Note from Self: I can’t help but feel the “bear” that was used in the sentence prior is incorrect. I’m almost completely confident that it should be “bare”, but Microsoft Word is convinced otherwise. I might also just be losing my mind, which is exceedingly possible, as well.

I don’t claim to have the greatest knowledge of educational history, but based on what I do know, it seems that for the better part of western culture and history the drive for better education was a largely social need. In order to develop a more stable and prosperous civilization, better academic reasoning was required. To cultivate this sense of logic, students (or monks, before that) focused on the mathematics and sciences. As anyone who has built a tiny bridge in science class can tell you: understanding weight dispersal and fulcrums are not exactly guess-work when trying to plan for a bridge to navigate a tiny car across two desks.

But with the maths and sciences, so too came the humanities. Poetry and music can help maintain a semblance of order and sanity in large populations; they also further reinforce a sense of cultural identity and stress relief that maintains a higher quota of productivity than otherwise. And as time progresses, so too do these systems improve. Science and learning becomes more precise, and literature and the arts have more to draw upon as human nature and identities change with the times.

Now, I’m not even going to begin to speculate on eastern education, because I know very little about it. Based on academic rankings, though: they seem to be doing pretty well in the past couple decades.

Based on these developments, I’d say the nature of education is to improve upon the human mind in general. We can see this in the varied and diverse fields of study that can be obtained within the higher academic establishments; the only real limits to what you can learn comes down to ethics at that point. Or money.

And in that regard, the education system we have today has achieved that goal with remarkable success. Our brains are sophisticated machines that, as a result of the stimulation and information we’ve received through our developmental years, can process complex questions and scenarios that have built civilization as we recognize it today. The fact that we can even question these ideas on such a massive scale, potentially reaching and hearing millions of voices at a time with universal theories and scales to work with is testament to that accomplishment.

But this begs the question: what is the purpose of education now? Where do we go from here? And this is where everyone splinters into their different groups and beliefs. We’re all asking the same question, frankly, just in different words. And this is good. This is hella good.

I strongly believe that everyone who partakes in these conversations and arguments all have the same base goal: to improve upon such a fundamentally important system that our world relies upon. And if we’re all having that discussion, I genuinely believe that, as far as morals are concerned, there are very few wrong view points to have.

Except for anarchists. I do not like them, or their beliefs at all!

The funny thing is what sprouted this recent mind experiment for me. I was thumbing through a social media feed and happened across a post about the nature of education. It stated that home education was far superior because, as far as human history is concerned, it’s the one that’s been in use the longest and that established education was an experiment.

The implication was that established education was wrong and we should go back to individualized family-based learning instead. I can sympathize with the sentiments behind the post, but I largely disagree with the overall message. As a whole, our society is better for having an educational system in place. And while I, much like many, believe that our system is far from perfect, it is infinity better than having nothing at all.

Let’s Bring Back Those House Hippos

20170712_115836-1[1]I have always stood by a statement of mine that I am, 100%, a by-product of the 90’s. In regards to pop-culture influences, to music tastes to overwhelming passive-aggressiveness for no justifiable reason. And Pogs™, let’s not forget those either. But perhaps one of the biggest things about the 90’s I remember are those Concerned Children’s Advertisers that played on half a dozen channels intended for audiences between the ages of 2 – 18.

You remember those commercials? “Nobody’s good at everything, but everyone’s good at something”; or “I can put my arm back on, but you can’t. So play safe”; or my personal favourite and topic of today’s article: The North American House Hippo. I remember how long it took me to come to terms with the fact that the commercial was a result of clever editing and lighting tricks, and a very convincing voice-over. After spending far too long searching my own house for traces of the House Hippo, I finally was old enough to rationalize the message behind the commercial and apply it to tv, the focus of the advertisement’s warning.

Some twenty years later, this message is just as applicable. And not only because of its limits to less than factual television programming. The lesson of “don’t believe everything you see” can be applied to very nearly every source of media we, as the Western world, absorb on a very-nearly hourly basis. Granted, this mantra needs a little updating and polishing to be more poignant.

For starters, let’s evaluate the primary message behind the House Hippo commercial. We (kids) were presented with a series of shots and explanations as to the lifestyle of the elusive House Hippo (should that be capitalized? I’m not even sure), what they eat, where they nest and all that good jazz. Then the reveal at the end that the house hippo wasn’t real, and that we should be wary of things on television. Or, at least, better informed.

Fake NewsAnyone whose spent more than thirty seconds on Facebook can tell you that the spreading of misinformation or, worse yet, outright lies, is a blight upon what the greater information network (aka, the internet) is supposed to be. Everyone and their political representatives have pointed fingers to every Tom, Dick and Jane for being to blame for this and youths/elders/millenials/generation-bazinga people need to read things more carefully.

Were the solution that easy, this wouldn’t be an ongoing issue.

Breaking down the reasons into the spreading of misinformation usually stems from articles/posts/claims/statements/utterances that appeal to an emotional response; knowing how to get people riled up is one of the fastest ways to get a message out there into the world at large. Is it any surprise that the articles most likely to be blatantly incorrect or misleading are often charged with rage-inducing headlines or slants? I could do it myself if I didn’t like to think of myself as an entirely passive-aggressive-ish person; this blog would very likely get many more viral views. This largely comes down to a matter of framing.

For those of you who know what framing is, you are well aware of the powerful impacts it can have on even the most benign of statements. For those who don’t: a quick Google intermission might be in order.

This is now the part where I would very likely launch into a series of inductions based on the research I have compiled about this particular topic; but as things stand, my research is actually quite narrow in this regard. I’d very much like to cite a proper experiment on this topic, but as of yet, a good example eludes me. And such, I am reeling myself in from making any sweeping statements about the phenomena.

hhYiYBfWhich, in many regards, is still a great deal better than most of these posts that are the ire of news outlets and rational thinking alike. Because of how fast everything seems to be moving at all times (especially online,) it can be very difficult to not make a wild conclusion based on the concepts and information we have at our disposal. When we do: while it is true that we will invariably see more readers for what we post, we will degrade the quality of our works by not taking that little extra time needed to verify our sources.

The 150th Canada Day Debate; Where do we Stand and What Does it Mean?

20170702_155747-1I think it’s fairly safe to say that very nearly everyone and their dog has had an opinion about the Canada Day 150th celebration that had passed only some couple days ago. And, shockingly, this might have been among the most charged and polarized discussions and arguments that has lit up the internet since fidget spinners first hit the scene (what was that: like, 3 weeks ago.

For people outside of Canada, a country celebrating 150 years of existence sounds like it should be a pretty straight-forward party. Fireworks, anthems, flags and over-priced merch that totally doesn’t all look the same. Inside the borders (or on just about every Canadian-based online forum) was a very different story. There seemed to be an almost polite civil war going on about the very nature of these celebrations. On the one side, you have the Pro-Canadian folks: proclaiming our love for beer, back-bacon, the long history of inclusion and awesomeness and incredible Canadian icons. On the other, however, was a group that I’ve taken to referring to Genocidal Canada: our long history of betraying and murdering the aboriginal communities, of clear ideological divides over our Euro-centric focuses and unwillingness to make amends for our past transgressions. Then, of course, the more quiet group, the Pure Canada folks: how dare we let refugees into our country, the gays should be put to the axe (because its sacrilegious that we should be flying the gay pride flag below the Canadian flag), and that our acceptance of more liberal views is degrading our values of a once great and proud nation.

3 Way Fight Chart

No matter how I look at it: there’s no winning side in this mess. Least of all that middle area.

Good Gods when you look at the three-way brawl that’s been going on online for the past couple months it’s enough to make you forget that, as a country, we’re viewed as the kind and benevolent neighbours to a much more volatile nation south of the border. And I have no doubt that, for many of us, this kerfuffle will continue into the next few months with no signs of slowing down.

Again, not unlike the fidget spinner fad…

The biggest problem with this whole debacle is that I don’t know how I’ve felt about any of this. When lines are drawn, sides are expected to be picked. And I’ve seen all sides very clearly chosen by even close friends of mine, let alone the extended friend basis I like to think I’ve kept. I’ve seen very compelling and articulate arguments for all sides at one time or another (except that Pure Canada thing; it’s hard to make a logical and compelling argument for killing homosexuals that doesn’t come off as a little maniacal). I like to pride myself as something of a hobbiest historian, so I am all too well aware of the long-standing history of “things are great so long as you don’t look into native reserves” that is so prevalent in our country.

But the thing that’s been bothering me most about this whole thing is: do our sins of the past and present outweigh the option for us to celebrate that which we value?

It almost seems that we, as a society, have been brow-beaten every time we wish to celebrate something that is important to us by interest groups or by particularly passionate individuals. We are guilted for thinking that it’s okay to have a good day when awful things are still transpiring all around us. And while I can certainly appreciate the sentiment that we should always be aware of the terrible things that have occurred on all our watches, I’m also something of a believer that in a world so seemingly bleak and hopeless as the one we find ourselves in, we need to have a little fun (more on that subject another day; getting into the dissertation of how the world isn’t as awful as mass-media makes it seem is a very complicated issue).

But, hold a moment. What exactly is this Canada 150th celebration about? Surely, the nature of what the party is will change the tone of our decision (my decision, anyway) of whether it is okay to partake or not. Again, things get fuzzy on this one. The celebration is to commemorate 150 years of Canada being Canada. Which makes no literal sense; what are we discussing exactly here? Canada as a specific thing, or as an idea/concept/symbol?

PrintWell, Canada as a specific thing. That has to be fairly simple, right? 150 years of Canada being a great nation. Well, not quite; Canada wasn’t a truly independent entity until only 35 years ago, with the Constitution Act, where we achieved full independence from the British Parliment. Or maybe it was with the symbolic act of the Statute of Westminister in 1931, where very nearly all British Colonies (except Quebec, for whatever reason) were to be given independence from the crown. Or maybe it was even earlier in 1763, where with the Treaty of Paris, control of the Canadian colony was surrendered to the British by a defeated France. Scale it back again to 1534, where French explorer Jacques Cartier stuck a foot and a cross into the ground and declared it land belonging to the French crown (while brushing aside the native peoples who were sitting there a little perplexed). On that note, what is to be said of the centuries or millennia (dependent on your reading sources) of aboriginal history on the continent of what we recognize as North America? Or even before that when the landmass that is recognizably Canada first emerged with the splitting of Pangeae 175 million years ago?

I’m sure at some point in that paragraph you mentally drew a line and said “yeah, that is Canada”. I don’t blame you; hell, I’ve done similar in the past and even to this day. What Canada specifically is in our minds is very much a reflection of experiences and personal philosophies. The same can be said for what precisely the very idea of Canada is. What is it that we, as a people, stand for and represent?

And we all know the stereo-types that surround that philosophy for our less-local friends. I’ve been to a few different countries in my time, and the impressions of what Canada is is not very different whether you live in the US or in Belgium. We’re the happy-go-lucky nation of buck-toothed beavers who drink beer and go polar diving in June, after riding our dog sleds to the nearest Tim’s for a bucket o’ double-double.

I’d go further with that description, but you, reader, have probably already inserted several more icons into the mix. I think you get the point.

ut inside our own borders, we’re just as ideologically divided as any other country; perhaps even more-so. Because of this huge divide, I’ve been exposed to so many different views as to the nature of celebrating Canada Day that it makes my head spin. It’s been very difficult to reconcile all these different views to figure out exactly what it is that Canada Day means to me, let alone something as apparently monumental as 150 years of existence (though I don’t put much stock in that number; refer to a few paragraphs previous). Even as I watched a modest fireworks display firing off on the coveted July 1st, I was still battling in my own mind where I stood on the issue.

Note from Self: I felt bad for all the bats in the area that were going to have splitting migraines from the show, but immediately forgot about that when the sky lit-up in that impressive display.

For the time being, I think I’ve come to a decision on the matter: The nature of the Canada Day 150th celebrations is less a matter of praising something physical, visceral or even said. It’s not about celebrating all the things that have been achieved under the iconic banner of red and white, or even the historic peoples who were born on this landmass. It’s not about political borders, or about spiritual beliefs or even past by-gones. The celebration is to commemorate an identity that is not shared by anyone else in the world. On this day, we acknowledge everything we have achieved: accomplishment, crime and otherwise. This day marks a moment in our history where we can look back to all we’ve collectively and individually done and discuss it with our friends and family to learn and improve.

Residential School

Residential Schools: one of the many, MANY mires on our collective history

Canada has accomplished great and terrible things; not occasionally at the same time. We have committed great atrocities within our own borders while reaching a humanitarian hand to those suffering in other countries. We have shed words, tears and blood in this and other nations to stand for what we believe in: whether that be by ten, one hundred, one thousand or one million voices. And the greatest thing of all: it is not an absolute.

These views will change and morph as we discuss and learn. So long as we continue to speak and to listen, we are doing our nation the honour it deserves. There will be times when we acknowledge and admit our shames, just as there will be times where we raise a toast to praise our accomplishments.

For the time being, this is my view of what this 150th celebration stands for. Undoubtedly, it will change in time, as all ideas and concepts should. I will see new things and experience new sensations that will forge and shape my beliefs.

To all those who have spoken up about their beliefs (even if they’re ones that make me uncomfortable or ones I disagree with), thank you from the bowels of whatever I have left of a soul for your opinions. The challenges I’ve faced with understanding this celebration has been an arduous one; one I feel that I am all the better for facing.

To the idea that you and I carry for what Canada is during this 150th year, I raise a toast. Here’s to the difference in our views that allow us to think and to grow. Here’s to the symbols we have become and the ones we are to be in the future. And here’s to our uncertain future; for better or worse, I am proud to identify as a Canadian and face these coming challenges head on.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I hear the huskies bickering again. I’m going to go take them for a once around the tundra to burn off some steam. Until the next time: g’day, eh?