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Archive for October, 2013

Cell phone sadness


I watch the flicking thumbs of passengers on the east bound train.
No eye contact. No conversation.
Everyone searching for some connection in cyber space.
Moving through their contact lists.
Desperately seeking some connection.
Who are you sharing your space with?
What response are you looking for?
Or is it just mindless habit.
Will someone be there to break your fall?
When the battery power runs out.

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Reid Southwick and Trevor Howell, Postmedia News | 29/10/13

CALGARY — A Calgary school’s decision to stop rewarding students for their academic achievements has reignited a debate over whether such award programs should remain in the classroom.

Roughly 250 students in Grade 7 to 9 will no longer compete for the honour roll after St. Basil Elementary and Junior High School axed academic awards and year-end ceremonies.

“Awards eventually lose their lustre to students who get them, while often hurting the self-esteem and pride of those who do not receive a certificate,” school officials said in a letter to parents explaining the decision

Many parents and students have expressed shock and disappointment, and ask why officials would take away a sense of purpose for young learners and an incentive for students to work harder to get better grades.
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“The kids that care, that are trying but don’t ever achieve one, well there’s something to be learned from that,” said Jason Redelback, whose 14-year-old son is enrolled at St. Basil.

“You teach kids how to win, you teach kids how to lose,” Mr. Redelback added. “But you also teach them how to improve themselves and give them goals to strive for.”

The school’s letter to parents cites the work of education guru Alfie Kohn, who contends that “dangling rewards in front of children are at best ineffective, and at worst counterproductive.”

School principal Craig Kittelson acknowledged that line of thinking runs counter to tradition, but the school has the best interest of its students in mind.

“We’re not saying not to set high goals,” Mr. Kittelson said. “We’re still striving to get them to do their best. Kids want to do their best and we want to support them in doing their best.”

Mary Martin, chair of the Calgary Catholic School District, would not say whether she backs the decision, but that she supports allowing schools to make their own choices based on their unique circumstances.

“I am aware of some schools where there has been a movement away from the one or two times a year where you stand up and get these certificates,” Ms. Martin said. “And the reason they are doing that is they are trying to reward students in a way that’s relevant to their kids and more frequently.”

An earlier forum on academic awards in the Calgary Catholic School District had revealed divisions among school administrators, trustees and parents on the effects that formal recognition has on students.

‘You teach kids how to win, you teach kids how to lose’

There were concerns among those attending the forum that honours and award programs can sow jealousy among classmates, cause undue stress and spur children who are not top achievers to give up because they never win.

Others felt that such programs build a sense of community, boost self-esteem, encourage students to work harder and open doors to scholarships down the road.

In 2007, Red Deer teacher and author Joe Bower helped spearhead a similar move to end awards ceremonies at Red Deer’s Westpark Middle School, where he then taught. But rather than end all awards, the school decided to broaden its scope, allowing teachers and students to celebrate the individual strengths and improvements of kids through personalized recognition posters.

The response from parents of students at the Red Deer school was “overwhelmingly positive,” he said.

“We need to broaden our narrow view of what we recognize in children and what we call success and evidence of success,” Mr. Bower said. “Right now, many schools just focus on 80% in their core subjects. That’s a pretty narrow view.”

Dropping awards ceremonies, or celebrating all students’ achievements, doesn’t — as many have charged — foster mediocrity, said Mr. Bower.

“Every child has strengths and something to be celebrated,” he said. “And if you can’t find them, then you’re not looking hard enough.”

At St. Basil, praise and recognition will now be immediate through feedback from teachers.

“We know there’s value in many, many traditions, and this is something that we debated as well,” Mr. Kittelson said.

Postmedia News

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12 Years a Slave


In honor of this most excellent movie I reprint some perfect verse from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”

The runaway slave came to my house and stopt outside,
I heard his motions crackling the twigs of the woodpile,
Through the swung half-door of the kitchen I saw him limpsy and weak,
And went where he sat on a log and led him in and assured him,
And brought water and fill’d a tub for his sweated body and bruis’d feet,
And gave him a room that enter’d from my own, and gave him some coarse clean clothes,
And remember perfectly well his revolving eyes and his awkwardness,
And remember putting plasters on the galls of his neck and ankles;
He staid with me a week before he was recuperated and pass’d north,
I had him sit next me at table, my fire-lock lean’d in the corner.

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My brother Roland is an astonishingly ignorant, selfish, arrogant narcissist. About the only good thing I can say, is he provides me with unlimited writing material. He finally came to visit our father in Dad’s new retirement residence. Seven weeks after Dad had moved in. He spent 70 minutes with him, most of that time having dinner. And when he left to go back to Hamilton, to Dad’s house, where he still lives without contributing a nickel to house maintenance and expenses, he did a most amazing and unbelievable thing. He took three pairs of Dad’s shoes back with him! I picked up Dad this morning to bring him to church, and thought a pair of black shoes might look better with the pants he was wearing. I opened the hall closet to get the black shoes and was baffled to see that only three pairs of shoes remained. Recognizing that Dad does have dementia, my first reaction was to look in the other closet and even dresser drawers, figuring that Dad had hidden them. No sight of the shoes. Not under the bed. Not behind any chairs. Gone. Roland, who has at least 40 pairs of shoes back in Hamilton, many still in boxes unopened, had repossessed his shoes. I had taken them when I moved Dad to his retirement home, thinking they were Dad’s. Used shoes folks. Not new. Roland took back the only pair of black shoes Dad had. He is beyond shame. He is mentally very sick. He needs help. So on this Thanksgiving Sunday I pray that Roland gets appropriate psychiatric help soon, before he finds his medical and social life shattered. You leave a shit storm wherever you go Roland, and we are all left cleaning up the mess. Get help, get out of Dodge, get on with life before it destroys you. You are pathetic.

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Written several months ago when dad’s future was very uncertain. Here’s hoping he never revisits this period.

I wonder where my father’s mind has gone.
It disappeared long before the coming dawn.
He rages at things unseen.
Heart racing, hands flailing, logic failing.
The man who once guided me
now needs a seeing eye dog for his soul.
Watch him weeping, my heart bleeding.
Cannot console him, just got to keep him alive.
Get him home to his safe zone
far removed from the din that obscures his light
and sucks him into the night.
Darkness, no color.
No sight.

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