People need to be honoured, people need to be written about.
In 2017, I wrote about my dad as he lay in a coma. It got lots of attention. He fell and lingered for weeks before he died. This post I honour my mother, but I doubt it will get as much recognition.
My mom is alive, but the wonderful character, the beautiful person who she was is almost dead.
My mom has advanced dementia. Her last real grasp of reality died with my father, but she lingers.
We moved her to Ottawa after my dad died, and when Covid allows, we visit her. She has endured months in the hospital after a broken hip, but she rallied and survives.
Today I had a visit and she railed at me, she screamed when we tried to give her medication.. She shouted at me when I wouldn’t bring her home -what is home??
She clawed at my visor and spit at me. I tried to distract with an old movie, she was a lover of old movies. Today it didn’t work.
I took her outside, I toured her around the residence. She complained – really loudly, that this was not her home.
For one moment, I think more of myself. I have no family to help with this. There is a brother, but he is in so much psychic pain he is not able to help.
I witness this and I have to remember. My mom was a good mom. My mom loved us and made our home the hub that all my friends felt comfortable coming to. Our place was always so much fun, she welcomed everyone to our place. we all grew up with her.
My mom was crazy, she would dance right into the super 8 film my dad was trying to take of beautiful cliffs in New Brunswick. My mom is who I talked to when I came home after too many beers who listened patiently when I blathered on about nothing. My mom let us use her wedding dress for a movie we were making. Who dived into the pool in that dress??
My mom was always there for us. My mom listened.
Now who is my mom? What does she think, what does she feel?
I am not sure she feels the absence of her wonderful partner. She talks about ‘Frank’ but I don’t know if she realizes he is no longer there.
Soon after my dad died, she told me a story. She was asleep in a different section of the room on the night he died. She talked about how he came to her that night and talked to her. I can’t remember what she said about that encounter, but it was a vision of comfort and love.
Now there are photos of the two of them together throughout the room, but I don’t think she recognizes them. Some times, I am Frank or her brother Paul also long gone. Sometimes I am Paul, but I am a bit surprised when she recognizes me.
Today her plea was to take her home. I told her that she was home, but really, that made no sense to her.
This is living with dementia. It is too easy to be angry with her because she is no longer the mom I knew. I write this to help me to remember to respect who she was even though she is still here. She is not who she was.
This is part of life, seeing your loving parent descend into something that resembles madness. There is no solace in this. There is no comfort, there are memories, but they are faded right now.
I write this out of great respect for my mom. I write this to remember. I write this to help me to me a loving son on the next visit when who knows what will happen.
Is it possible to mourn the living? I don’t know. I respect and love who she was. This is life, this is dementia.
Lots of great music again this week. The most unique aspect for this show has to be the Brockville element. All of Bob’s songs have a connection to Brockville and Thousand Islands Secondary School.
You really need to listen to Bob’s stories here – each artist has a unique and interesting journey. I say it several times in the episode, but it is pretty incredible that all this talent is coming from a relatively small place in Ontario.
This is one of the mandates of the show, to feature and promote artists that don’t necessarily get much airplay on regular radio stations. Each of the Brockville artists could do really well on the CBC for sure! This also shows the connections a teacher can make to their students over their career. Pretty cool.
I started with the Beaches. I think their music is great, but in my comments I seem to have focused on their interesting connection to Elton John.
It was not to be a moment of fleeting infatuation on John’s part. Since then, the Rocket Man has proven a more than loyal supporter of the youthful east-end outfit. “T-Shirt” would also go on later in June to top his weekly Spotify playlist, Elton John: Loves — motto: “Loved by Elton, discovered for you” — where it remains in the mix to this day alongside tunes by the likes of Courtney Barnett, Little Dragon, Charlie Puth, Young Thug and, more recently, a new cut from Toronto folk-pop ensemble Great Lake Swimmers, “The Talking Wind.”
And when he came to Toronto to play a pair of dates on his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour at the Scotiabank Arena this past September, who turned up in his Instagram feed the next morning? Damn right it was the Beaches.”
Toronto Star November 2018
We also played Art Bergmann – Your Second Amendment, which at first I thought was a new artist for me, even though he has been awarded the Order of Canada for his musical accomplishments.
Then Bob reminded me of Hawaii
It’s humbling. And I want to know who did this to me,
Art Bergmann upon receiving the Order of Canada – for his “indelible contributions to the Canadian punk music scene, and for his thought-provoking discourse on social, gender and racial inequalities.
His latest album, Late Stage Empire Dementia, will be released May 21, 2021
His latest video for Your Second Amendment is really worth watching. It certainly explores America’s obsession with guns
Lyrics from Your Second Amendment
I don’t know why you’re hitched to that post
You know that office ain’t goin’ nowhere
You know those guns weren’t heaven sent
Beware of the men who are waiting there
I don’t know how love can be saved
But I know how we fail
Say goodbye to your second
God damn your second
Goodbye to your second
I chose Jesse Roper from Victoria for his great voice. However, here is another video you should watch. I am not sure where the connection is to the song, but this is pretty fun.
He also performed ‘Horizons’ from Ciels Rooftop in James Bay, Victoria, BC. This looked like lots of fun to make.
My last song was is by Shakey Graves real name – Alejandro Rose-Garcia.
This one is a toss up. The album, Roll the Bones is actually a re-issue, so this release is actually Roll the Bones X – do re-issues count??
Not sure about this, but this is Shakey Graves from an earlier Youtube video where he is singing, playing guitar and two different drums. He concocted this assortment as a way to avoid the hassle of borrowing drum sets for his shows. Pretty amazing to watch all this.
There is actually a Shakey Graves Day in Austin, Texas on February 9th of every year – since 2012. On this occasion, he releases his music on a pay-what-you-can basis on Bandcamp. His latest album is a 2-CD set that was released in April. This is a CD I really want to get!
For next week, I think Bob will be focusing on Octoberfest at Beas, I think.
I want to focus on this Tweet I found that talks about the resurgence of World Music on CBC Frequencies.
Hi everyone! It has been a year since I have been in contact with you. COVID has put a break on our trips and our fundraising, but Christie Lake Kids continues to offer to program for kids.
Last summer their wonderful camp was closed down, but they offered kids a virtual camp and delivered materials and activities directly to the doors of the virtual camp.
All of you who have taken the time to donate have helped fund these programs. The programs keep running so we need to keep climbing!!
From CLK staffer Kim Banks:
In 2020 – you kept us stable and operational – you ensured that we could develop a hybrid of programming both virtual and eventually back in person in small groups in the Fall of 2020. Thanks to Climb for Kids- Mt. Kilimanjaro, even though the trek didn’t happen, your funding ensured that we could source, box and deliver packages directly to families for virtual programming as well as purchase new equipment for a skills – and – drills program in person.
Since 2018, so many of you have been loyal supporters of our fundraising initiatives for Christie Lake Kids – Climb for Kids.You have turned up at our community fundraisers, contributed and bought from the silent auctions, donated to Canada Helps and, last year, sponsored our climbing hundreds of stairs through Step up for Kids – when the pandemic stopped our travelling and required some innovative and creative endeavours to continue to support Christie Lake Kids. Right now – we still are not congregating, nor climbing mountains, but we are still committed to Christie Lake Kids.
Although grounded again in 2021, we are not still. The growing needs of Ottawa families and kids are never still, and the pandemic has even further deepened the divide between children who can access recreation and supportive programs and those who cannot. Next week, on Saturday, April 24th, CLK is supporting another STEP up for KIDS event. Funds raised through participation and/or sponsoring others/donations will help CLK to keep connecting with, and supporting kids as we head into the spring and summer. Please consider participating in STEP up for KIDS – walking, climbing, playing – and/or sponsoring me or Heather Swail through our STEP up for KIDS donor page. Heather and I are committing to climbing stairs for one hour, maybe with some small breaks!
We have three episodes done now and you can still hear them all on Spreaker. There is now limited access on Spreaker due to copyright rules. If you can’t listen to an episode, please let me know and I will send you a link. The episodes will also be playing regularly on VoicEd Radio.
Bob Kennedy and I have been doing this show for three weeks. The basic idea is simple – 10 songs over one hour, all songs have to have been produced after 2015 – hence – New Music.
Here are Bob’s selections for this week.
Rolling Coastal Blackout Fever – An Air Conditioned Man
Fontaines DC – Oh Such A Spring
Seaway – Lula on the Beach
Solange – Cranes in the Sky
Minus 5 – Davy Gets the Girl
You can hear all of Bob’s songs and much more on our Spotify playlist. If you listen to the podcast, you will find out so much more, for example, who is Solange’s famous sister?
Errol Nazareth describes Finley as the ‘real deal’ and goes on to say “One day, I’d like to see Mr. Finley at the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi.”
After listening to him and especially after watching his video for his newest release I totally agree!
from Under the Radar Magazine
Robert Finley, described by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach as “the greatest living soul singer,” has returned for a third studio album, Sharecropper’s Son. Co-written and produced by Auerbach, the album sees Finley follow his acclaimed 2017 record Goin’ Platinum! alongside studio legends and bluesmen, some of which have worked with everyone from Elvis Presley to Wilson Pickett. Finley has returned today with the video for his latest single, “Country Boy,” premiering with Under the Radar.
Louisiana-based musician @therobertfinley has shared the video for his latest single, “Country Boy,” premiering with Under the Radar. Finley’s new record, ‘Sharecropper’s Son (co-written and produced by @danauerbach) is out May 21st on Easy Eye Sound.
We also featured a young singer from Kitchener, JJ. Wilde – The Rush
Her video is very interesting and you can watch it here
This track is from her album, Ruthless released in April 2020. She has written over 500 songs and is 28 yrs old. Another single – Mercy is also terrific. The Rush was #1 on all 3 Canadian Rock Radio formats – JJ Wilde was the first woman to do this. She has also toured with bands like The Glorious Sons.
The lyrics to Rush are really interesting. Even though she is pretty hard hitting, the song has lots to do about not disappointing her mom with her risky lifestyle:
Woke up this morning, in panic
I had my red dress on again
Last night I came out I was so damn manic
Don’t even know where I went wrong
But I went wrong
And it’s times like these that I swear to god
I’m glad my mother can’t see me
And if she did, I don’t know how I would keep it together
I don’t know how I would keep it in
It’s the Rush, it’s the lust, you can’t trust
Kandle, the daughter of Neil Osborne from 54-40, was another new discovery. Stick Around and Find Out her fourth album features the track Happy Pills. It is a little dark, but if you listen to her explanation, it really is a song about regeneration and growth. Her voice is haunting which makes this song all the more evocative.
I was sitting around in the Hipposonic studio in Vancouver trying to finalize arrangements for recording when I picked up a guitar and wrote it, almost by accident, in about 10 minutes. I had been focusing so much on rockin’, Motown, power house songs that I kind of missed being a little bit folky. At the time I was working on getting off of the medications that I’d been put on post breakdown and realized I wanted to reclaim and manage my life without them. “When did I start? And how do I stop? I caught my reflection, tied my stomach in knots”.
Only some of her material like Honey Trap is out on video. This again is worth watching.
Another artist that was new to me (they are all new to me) is Phoebe Bridgers. She has great songs and really interesting lyrics. Bob mentioned the controversy about her smashing a guitar on Saturday Night Live that was news to me.
While I don’t have that video, I do have a New York Times interview that discusses her song writing. This is probably more interesting than smashing guitars.
This year at the Grammys she was up for Best New Artist, Best Alternative Album, Best Rock Song, and Best Rock Performance (the latter two are for “Kyoto”).
Also the song Motion Sickness is really good!
All this is from a new music source for me – Under the Radar, a source I will continue to go back to in the weeks ahead.
And finally a video from one of Bob’s picks Valley.
Honest Heart Collective – North American Dream Elwins – Take Me all the Way
Valley –There’s Still a Light in the House – see them below
Born Ruffians – Waylaid US Girls – And Yet It Moves / Y Se Mueve
Not Our First Goat Rodeo – Yo Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile
Future Islands, Plastic Beach
July Talk – The News
What do two old fellas – Bob Kennedy and Paul McGuire listen to when they want new music? Each week we bring you some samplings of new music produced after 2015. There’s lots of great material out there and for an hour each week, we spin some tunes and talk about pretty cool stuff. All on VoicEd Radio!
We plan to add some fun notes, not complete, at the end of each week of looking for new music. This seems like a good place to leave some of what we have talked about and discovered over the past week.
After two weeks, Bob Kennedy and I have played eight songs that are all newer than 2015 – this is the main criteria for choosing a sone.
All of this is possible because of the continuing encouragement of Stephen Hurley and VoicEd Radio. It has been a bit of a technical journey, putting two people together on radio from different locations with music chosen by both is quite the challenge!
So, this post is mainly about the music and stuff we talked about during the episode.
My first choice was US Girls
US Girls was my first choice. The song I chose was And Yet It Moves / Y Se Mueve, but it could have been
4 American Dollars – this is a great song too, very different style, really great sound. Hard to choose which one to play.
U.S. Girls is a Toronto-based band formed in 2007, consisting solely of American musician and record producer Meghan Remy. She had released music on a variety of independent record labels before signing to 4AD in 2015.
Their video is really worth watching to see how these great musicians play together.
The album – Not Our First Goat Rodeo, is their second project, following The Goat Rodeo Sessions.
A got Rodeo is an interesting term and I think you can see an example of this in the video. The term is an aviation term that means that 100 things need to go right to avoid disaster. This is beautiful playing and the video really shows why their releases are so popular.
The Los Angelas describes this best:
There can be little doubt that the greatest composer ever would have been unfazed hearing his music played by a trio of cello, mandolin and bass, as Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer did at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Wednesday night. Five years ago the three took part in what became known as “The Goat Rodeo Sessions,” unlikely musicians on unlikely instruments in concerts and on bestselling recordings that were part blues, part bluegrass and a smidgen of Bach. Although sometimes slang for hapless chaos, for everything that can go wrong going wrong, a goat rodeo can also imply that out of pandemonium can come something new.
The next track is Plastic Beach by Future Islands. The song has some really great lyrics by Samuel T. herring:
I spent a lifetime in the mirror
Picking apart, what I couldn’t change
Now I see, I see tomorrow
I see, I see tomorrow
I see, I see tomorrow
I see, I see tomorrow
I see, I see tomorrow
What you saw today
This is accompanied by some really striking vocals. You can see them best on stage with David Letterman in 2014. This incredible performance by Herring was a sensation several years ago. Watch it and you will see why.
We choose five songs each for an episode, but we never get beyond four. My last choice was July Talk, an incredible Toronto Band known for dynamic live shows. The dramatic play between vocalists Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay is incredible. Again, seeing is believing.
The band has a new album out and I chose one track, The news which is great, but unfortunately only features Leah Fay. I would suggest listening to Push + Pull or Guns + Ammunition. They have an interesting use of the + symbol, but you will have to listen to our broadcast to find out more about that!
More notes – Bob mentions a site for music that has been around for a long time, again, news to me, but I am adding this to one of the places I need to go now every week – Aquarium Drunkard – how could you not love a name like that!
Screen shot from Aquarium Drunkard
You will also hear a reference To Never Repeated, a Spotify playlist – you can find it here.
If you want to hear the whole show, you can find it here
Everyone knows what history is until he begins to think about it. After that, nobody knows.
I find sometimes that this blog is a good place to put ideas still in formation out there for me to take a look at.
This is one of those blogs. The teaching of history is one of the building blocks of our society. In Teaching History for the Common Good, Keith Barton and Linda Levstik write that history provides citizens with capability to engage in collaboration towards a common good Barton, Levstik (2004). The teaching of history is what makes us responsible and discerning citizens. So, if this is the case, why do we seem to have so much difficulty teaching it?
I started my career as a history teacher and I have a graduate degree in History from York University. My studies didn’t prepare me to teach the subject beyond putting out a narrative to my students. A narrative that was not really up for debate, a narrative that was a pretty traditional retelling of the classic Canadian story.
Later on when I scheduled teachers into their high school classes, the mandatory history class – CHC 2D/2P was rarely taught by someone who majored in history. Generally, we put in junior teachers who were working their way up in seniority hoping one day to get senior courses in grades 11 and 12. These teachers were provided with a text and possibly some resources from the more senior members of the department. I don’t think in most cases, the narrative model for teaching was ever really challenged. Consequently, history was one of those subjects that many students really dreaded. It was not relevant, it was not engaging and it told just one side of the story.
Now this was a long time ago and I would love to learn that this doesn’t happen anymore, so if you are a history teacher and I am missing something, please let me know. Now, of course there are a wide variety of resources available to the teacher. Some are better than others, some are curated, credible sources of information, others not so much. But I wonder, even with all these new shiny digital resources, has anything changed in how we actually teach the subject?
Actually, a lot has changed since I taught in the classroom. For more than 20 years, scholars have been writing about historical thinking – what it is and how to impart this in classroom. Theorists started to write that students needed to be asked to do more than just consume a national narrative. Students should be analysing or establishing causal linkages in history, they should be responding morally by remembering, admiring or condemning people and events of the past. Beyond this, students could be expected to identify with the past by making connections between themselves and the people and events of the past Barton, Levstik p. 6.
These ideas are percolating and changing all the time. In 2013, Peter Seixas and Tom Morton came out with The Big Six: Historical Thinking Concepts and in 2017, the Critical Thinking Consortium came out with Teaching Historical Thinking, both texts that I relied on heavily when I taught a history methodology course at the Faculty of Education last year at the University of Ottawa. Besides these works there is a whole range of other material that has been produced on new methodologies for teaching history. The ideas are fresh and exciting and all challenge the notion that history needs to be a boring apology for a national story.
When you start to look into this material, you will see that the really big idea here is teaching students how to discern and think. The Big Six concepts include historical significance, the use of evidence, continuity and change, cause and consequence, the development of an historical perspective and thinking about the ethical dimension of historic events.
This approach to teaching is well researched. Great material continues to be written, for example, a recent study by Lindsay Gibson and Carla Peck, examines how to teach historical thinking methods to pre-service elementary teachers Gibson & Peck (2020). They make an important point as part of this study:
The hope is that identification of core practices will establish a coherent language of history teaching practice, and will create a closer relationship between research on teacher education and research on teachers’ professional learning and bridge the gap between research and practice
Gibson & Peck p. 220
While Gibson and Peck have been able to develop teaching methods that have shown positive results with their teacher candidates, the real challenge is how can this methodology be extended to other pre-service programs, in-service professional development programs and teacher-support publications and websites. This is the work that needs to continue. Work has been done on what represents effective teaching practice in history, Fogo (2014), but has this been translated into materials and resources for educators?
This work has been done much more effectively in Science, Math and Language Arts and there are materials available that can effectively guide teachers on how to conduct inquiry in these subjects. Where this work has been done in History, the scale of the work is much smaller and does not focus enough on the links between teaching and learning Fogo p. 152.
A good example of the current work being done in other fields includes the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) which map out the key concepts and practices for teaching science in the United States.
Maybe what is needed for history instruction is a version of the work being done to develop teaching strategies to be used in the classroom like the NGSS. This would be a huge task, but if we truly want to see a change in the way history is taught in our schools, we need to find more ways to translate the research into practice as Fogo suggests.
There is no question that the teaching of history in our schools can be more effective. Research is showing that by and large, classrooms are still “sites of memorization rather than questioning, analysis, and interpretation” Gibson & Peck p. 213. While in other fields a great deal of work has been done to collect and study high-yield teaching strategies and then translate these though pre-service and in-service programming, this work still needs to be done in history education in our schools. If we really want to be doing history on a daily basis, we owe it to our teachers and students to bridge the gap between research and practice and replace old narratives with real thinking and analysis.
Bain, R. B. (2005). “They Thought the World Was Flat?” Applying the Principles of How People Learn in Teaching High School History. Dans J. B. S. Donovan (dir.), How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom (p. 179-214). Washington: The National Academies Press.
Den Heyer, K., Abbott, L. (2011). Reverberating Echoes: Challenging Teacher Candidates to Tell and Learn From Entwined Narrations of Canadian History curi_567 610..635 KENT DEN HEYER & LAURENCE ABBOTT University of Alberta Edmonton, AB, Canada
Fogo F. (2014) “Core Practices for Teaching History: The Results of a Delphi Panel Survey. In: Theory & Research in Social Education, 42: 151–196, College and University Faculty Assembly of National Council for the Social Studies Theory and Research in Social Education 42, no. 2 (2014): 152.
Miles, J., Gibson,L., Denos, M., Case, R., Stipp, S., (2017) Teaching Historical Thinking (Revised and expanded edition) The Critical Thinking Consortium and THEN/HIER
Salinas, C., Blevins, B. et Sullivan, C. (2012). Critical Historical Thinking: When Official Narratives Collide With Other Narratives. Multicultural Perspectives, 14(1), 18-27.
Seixas, P., Morton, T., Colyer, J., & Fornazzari, S. (2013). The Big Six: Historical Thinking Concepts. Toronto: Nelson Education
Teaching Historically for Canada’s Future: Overall Goals and Objectives (2020)
This week, in the midst of one of the most powerful and disturbing moments in recent American history, I decided to start an examination of why we study history.
This is the first blush at a longer project where I will be looking at how we teach history in our schools and what is the purpose of teaching history.
I am starting with Teaching History for the Common Good, Barton, K. C., & Levstik, L. S. (2004). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers. As I work through this and other texts, I am going to record what I am learning here, the place I go to sort out my ideas. I think this is going to take some time.
It is never been enough to teach history as a series of events with no overview of why we choose these particular events. Why do we study the First World War? Have we always done this? Does it teach us anything? What, if anything does it say about us and our national journey?
In 1962, Alan Griffin wrote this in the World Book Encylopedia:
Everyone knows what history is until he thinks about it
When you start thinking about why we teach history and how we teach the subject, this quote rings true. If we want to go beyond a recitation of facts, names, and events, we need to understand why we are doing what we are doing. Not so much of the what, but much more of the why.
I was faced with this when I taught preservice teachers a course in Intermediate History last year. I have written about this before and I will eventually look in more detail about some of the key themes in history as current writers see them. They include ideas like historical perspective, continuity and change, cause and consequence, and a number of other themes chosen to help students and teachers grapple with important issues.
But even before we choose the themes that are meaningful, we need to pause and think more about the why. Why these themes, why these events?
Before answering this, I want to return to this week in Washington.
When we witness events like this, we have to find a way to start making sense of what is going on. I am not going to try to do this here, but we do have the tools to do this important and really necessary work.
Now, if you haven’t, take a look at the photo essay at the beginning of this post.
The challenging point in the essay is this: we have always been like this. Saying ‘this is not us’ is not accurate. Actually, for most of our history, this is exactly what we have done. Whether we look to the Roman mob, the Parisian mob attack on the Tuileries, or the Montreal Richard riot, we have a long history of losing control.
We know this. But listen to the New York Times.
American is a nation built on stolen land, by stolen people
Of course, so is Canada.
Listen to the narrative. It is all about our history. We can really only come to terms with what happened this week if we are able to see ourselves in our own story, that all of us come from a violent past where force made things right. Where when the mob held sway there was no justice and no peace, especially for the marginalized.
This is why we study history. Barton and Levstik write that at its very base, we study history to engage in discussions about the common good. We need to look at issues surrounding justice and we need to allow students to make their own considerations and “reason deeply about important human matters” (pg 37).
If I had a history class right now, I would show this short piece first thing on Monday morning. While this is a condemnation of present-day America, it is a condemnation rooted in history. We here in Canada do not get a pass on this either. Our own purposeful study of our own story reveals the same level of violence and hypocrisy.
So when we study history it has to be with a purpose. The New York Times piece is all about history. It is a considered examination of how we got here. It is related to so much that we all should know about. Saying, we are better than this, this is not us is missing a really important historical point. If we don’t see ourselves in these rioters we are making a fatal mistake.
How would the national conversation change if we took the longer view and say – yes this is us, now what?
I have been following an issue in Ontario education for over a year now. I have to say right at the start that I have been following this because of a very brave Catholic educator Paolo De Buono. He is brave in a way that I never was. I was a Catholic educator for 31 years. I sat on the governing board of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace – the Canadian Catholic development organization – for 6 years. But in all that time, I never spoke truth to power like Paolo does. He is noble and brave, he is attacked for advocating for LGBTQ students in Catholic schools. He is in my opinion, a true Catholic educator.
I am writing now because I have followed Paolo’s tweets for a long time. In November of 2019, he started writing about an incredibly bizarre meeting of the Toronto Catholic School Board where one trustee, Michael Del Grande, in a motion to the board compared a variety of ghastly and illegal sexual practices to those of the LGBTQ community. The Board had been discussing changes to their code of conduct to include the terms gender expression and identity, a request made of all boards by the Ministry of Education to align with human rights legislation (Toronto Star, October 29, 2020).
For over a year, De Buono publicly advocated for LGBTQ students in Toronto Catholic schools against Del Grande. His tweets appeared daily, but it looked like the board and the Toronto Cardinal Collins just wanted him to go away.
Finally, after a report conducted by Michelle Bird of Rubin Thomlinson LLP, the board was obliged to deal with the incident. In the report, Del Grande was found to have violated the Trustee’s Code of Conduct:
She said “while Mr. Del Grande’s choice of words alone would be sufficient to find that he violated the Trustees’ Code of Conduct, I note that Mr. Del Grande’s actions are exacerbated by the fact that he chose to suggest that including criminals — such as cannibals and rapists — in the Code of Conduct was somehow similar to including members of the LGBTQ+ community … In choosing the words that he did, he created an unwelcoming and harmful environment for certain members of the Catholic school board community.”
The problem with all this goes well beyond the trustee. To me, this looks like a systemic failure of the Toronto Catholic Board’s ability to protect the rights of minorities in their schools. After the report was completed, with everything that had happened, four trustees still supported Del Grande at an August meeting called to consider whether he had violated their own code of conduct.
Finally, on November 11, 2020, after what the Toronto Star called a “tense seven-hour meeting”, Del Grande was found in contempt of the code of conduct. He will be required to make a public apology, is barred from being elected to any representative position or role on the board for three months and will need to complete an equity training program within a month (Toronto Star, November 12, 2020).
But the story is far from over. A week after the November meeting, Cardinal Collins, head of the Archdiocese of Toronto publicly criticized trustees for stopping a meeting delegate from reciting from the Roman Catholic Catechism, specifically the sections on chastity and homosexuality that characterizes homosexual acts as acts of ‘grave depravity’ that are ‘are intrinsically disordered’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Article 6).
This would have been a great opportunity for the Cardinal to applaud the work of the trustees who did sanction Del Grande. An even better time to demand an apology from Del Grande, instead, he sided with those at the meeting who defended the trustee. This shows an incredible lack of leadership by a Cardinal and shows how out of touch Cardinal Collins is with mainstream society.
In a great article by Rev. Michael Coren, Debate about Toronto Catholic District School Board is overdue, Coren rightly, in my opinion, challenges the Cardinal and others who ” judge, are legalistic, and ignore the central call to love.” The Catholic hierarchy is clearly in favour of those like Collins and Del Grande do not want to grant equal rights to LGBTQ students as they are obliged to do according to Ontario human rights legislation.
The point is you can’t have it both ways. You can’t take money from Ontario taxpayers and at the same time say that you don’t have to follow the rules and social norms of that society. You cannot exclude some because you are not comfortable with them, not in a democratic society.
This leads inevitably to the question – again – why are we still funding school systems that think it is ok to discriminate because of a set of beliefs most Catholics do not even agree with? I was a Catholic educator for 31 years, and I was mostly happy working for Catholic institutions. However, this has to stop, we are long past the time where the Catholic minority in Ontario needs special constitutional protection.
Reverend Coren says it best:
The truth is that many if not most Catholic schools are progressive and inclusive in their teaching, with teachers more concerned with the well-being of their students than some of the harsher beliefs of their faith. But there are still school trips to anti-abortion events, cases of LGBTQ students feeling isolated and insecure, and genuine questions about duplication of spending and the need for a separate, Catholic system in the modern age — especially as other religions do not receive the same privilege.
Cardinal Collins’ letter may have the opposite of its intention, but perhaps an open and informed debate is long overdue. Just don’t expect Jesus to attend the meeting.
It is a good thing that we have educators like Paolo De Buono taking a public stand. There are very serious problems however with a system that has such difficulty sanctioning outright discrimination. A democratic society is sustained by its public institutions. When one of those institutions fails in its public mission it is time for that informed debate. This would the sign of a society ready and willing to look at itself and contemplate some important changes.
This is my second year teaching at the University of Ottawa. We work with students both in the first and second year program. In a year that is fraught with troubles due to the pandemic, there are, I think, some great opportunities to really focus on what we are teaching our students in the Faculty of Education.
Here we work in cohorts and we are the Urban Communities Cohort (UCC). There are fewer distractions this year as everything we do is online. I really believe that what we are focusing on this year is truly essential to the formation of new educators here in Ontario.
This is an essential pause at the beginning of a career, a chance to reflect and ponder before actually diving in.
In both years, we are focusing our work on anti-racism, diversity, and inclusion. In the first year program, we are studying Is Everyone Really Equal by Özlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo. In second year we continue to work on How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.
Along with this, we have had a series of excellent panel discussions from leading urban educators here in Ottawa. The panels and the books are challenging our thinking about what it means to teach in an urban school.
This year we are doing something very special, something that we were not able to do last year. It is a bit like starting our own school of urban education. By starting with Sensoy & DiAngelo and Kendi and the panel of education leaders, we are truly grounding our students in a social justice framework – something that I have not seen before.
People like to talk about social justice, but it is not very often that it is practiced in our schools. The discussions with local leaders really brought this home – as urban educators, we need to ground our teaching in social justice first, everything flows from this. It is one thing to say that social justice is important to your teaching, it is a very different thing to make this the basis of your practice.
And what will this look like in your school? What will this look like in your classroom? How will you be challenged if you put social justice first?
Teaching from a social justice perspective means that you need to challenge societal norms and practices that are invested in protecting the status quo. A school board by its very nature is designed to protect itself from any radical change. In many ways seeing the world from a social justice perspective calls into question the very existence of large institutions like our school boards. How well do our schools cater to Indigenous students or students from different ethnic minorities?
Through the work in this program, we have been introduced to the works of Dr. Bettina A. Love and the Abolitionists in the United States. Her work is compelling and we focused one of our online discussions on what she teaches and how it can apply in the Canadian context. Dr. Love and others advocate for a system of education that breaks down barriers for children and where social justice is the guiding principle.
The education survival complex mirrors the prison industrial complex. Both industries are making money off these narratives about Black and Brown children—that we’re defiant, violent, thugs—and it’s just not true. This is about racism and how it plays out on Black and Brown bodies. The complex doesn’t want to remove any barriers, it’s just going to try to measure how well you can jump over them.
We watched a long interview with Dr. Love and other Abolitionists educators and I have included an excerpt below. The original is 90 minutes long and is really worth watching. Even this short segment is liberating and talks about how the impossible became possible at the beginning of the pandemic.
It is a bit crazy to think about now. We had computers, but kids couldn’t bring them home. We had testing, then EQAO stopped. Teachers became the center of everything. We need compassion over compliance!! Why did it take a pandemic to see what really is possible?
These ideas are new and liberating to me. How appropriate for new educators to be exposed to these ideas at the beginning of their career. Education should be about liberation, educators need to lead and not comply with what the conventional practices of the school board dictate. New teachers really need to question who our schools are really for. They need to critique the public school system and look for ways to change that system when it does not serve their students.
By giving our students this framework, they will be able to question more and push the limits of a system that really needs to be pushed. Teaching from a social justice framework is the opposite of supporting the status quo. This is certainly what our schools and our students need right now.
Some of these ideas are making it into our own school systems. Just last week, the Peel Board announced changes to entry requirements for Black and Indigenous students into specialized programs:
Faced with continuing criticism of its failures to address issues of equity and systemic anti-Black racism in its schools, Peel’s interim education director told trustees on Tuesday evening that giving access to groups that are underrepresented in programs, such as arts and technology, strings music and the International Baccalaureate, is a “necessary action.”
“They have a right to be there. If our random selection process was working well and we were encouraging students from these identities to apply, we wouldn’t need this step,” Colleen Russell-Rawlins said in an interview earlier on Tuesday.
Peel board changing specialty program criteria to increase access for Black, Indigenous students
Maybe this is why the abolitionist approach is so interesting – the only way to actually provide BIPOC students with a safe and caring environment is to create new structures that do not rely on a school model designed for Industrial Age Great Britain. The Peel approach is a good one and one that should resonate with our students.
At a time where the education of our children is so important when we need to question how we serve all of our students, these questions and discussions are essential to the development of the next generation of teachers. As they learn to challenge the way things have been done in the past I am confident we will build a better way forward.
The modern school system has, for all intents and purposes, come more and more to resemble and function much like what German sociologist Max Weber called the “Iron Cage” – a bureaucratic structure that traps individuals in a world driven by technological efficiency, rational calculation and control.
I worried most about this third article in my series Living in the age of incivility. I worried about this because I was going to take things personal, talk about a situation that occurred while I was a principal in the Ottawa Catholic School system five years ago.
In a tweet I never put out I wrote this:
In 2015, I was unjustly suspended by a school board I had worked for for 27 years. A disgruntled employee brought a whole host of false accusations against me. I have never written about this. In a time of such incivility, is it now time to expose the injustice of what happened?
Yes, it is time, but how do I make this a useful article? It would be very easy to become the victim in my own story or for the reader to think – maybe these accusations were not false, maybe he got what was coming for him.
If you keep the story as personal, if you hold on to the anger, the message gets lost, the story is blurred, people turn away.
Even a few years ago, I couldn’t write this story. I was too caught up in anger and shame. I have avoided any occasions that involve the OCSB for years now, including, to my shame, the retirement of a good friend, and my own board retirement party. But enough with that now.
What has given me the context for this third article is an opinion piece by Paul W. Bennett in today’s Globe and Mail. He is writing a summary of some of his ideas in his new book – The State of the System: A Reality Check on Canada’s Schools. I don’t have the book yet, but I will be reading this soon.
In his article, he starts out by writing how the pandemic has really exposed the inadequacies of our public school system, a system that has maintained the same structure for well over 100 years.
Beyond this crisis however, the pandemic has exposed a more fundamental problem. It has lost its connection with students, families and the wider community.
Our public schools, initially established as the vanguard of universal, accessible, free education, have lost their way and become largely unresponsive to the public they still claim to serve. Those voicing concerns about early reading, mathematics scores or school closings find the system resistant to change and regularly hit brick walls and glass ceilings, particularly when trying to access the points of decision-making.
What they are very good at is shutting down innovation and smothering dissent.
Now, I enter the personal, but I do it briefly, because I am not the story here.
In 2015, I was the principal of a small urban school in the Ottawa Catholic School Board. We had a great school with wonderful children, mostly new to Canada. Our school had served immigrant communities for decades and this meant going beyond the prescriptive norms to give them the opportunity to thrive in a brand new world.
At the time, we had one employee who worked closely with me who used their position to create tension and strife amongst the staff. I was unaware of this situation until the staff member began to poll staff about their attendance in a board-wide PD day. This is something you just don’t do in a school – the principal can do this, but I would never take a step like this – I trusted the people I worked with.
I did call the employee out on this behaviour, but I did not know at the time it was just one in a series of ‘aggressions’ the staff member had taken out on the rest of the staff.
While generally we could have moved on from this incident we didn’t. The employee went directly to the head of HR for the board, brought in their union representative and left the school when I asked why they were escalating the issue.
This was a time of high tension in the school board. The employee’s union was on work to rule and incidents like this were happening in other schools as well.
Still, nothing really to worry about here. In the ensuing weeks, without my knowledge, the employee with their union rep held a series of meetings with the superintendent of HR and others and in those meetings a long history of my supposed infractions were laid out out. It must have taken hours and hours to come up with this list.
It was fanciful, but it was damming. When the list was complete and the meetings were over, I was called in to hear the whole story. I brought our association rep, a fellow principal. As principals in Ontario, we don’t have a union which means we are exposed and unprotected. Most principals have no idea how precarious their position is.
A meeting that I thought would be a 15-minute conclusion to a strange affair turned into a two-hour grilling that only ended when I had had enough. I told them this was ridiculous and I left.
There is a nine-page summary of the meeting written by my representative. Even now I can’t read it and my hands actually shake as I pull it up again on the computer. I also produced a 22-page document in my defence. I really don’t know if anyone actually looked at it.
As a principal, you get accused of all sorts of stuff. This is part of the job, but you do expect your supervisors to support you and believe in you.
Mine did not. A few weeks after this meeting I was suspended pending an investigation.
I don’t know if an investigation ever took place. Three weeks later on the last day of school before Christmas, I was reinstated with a hastily written disciplinary letter added to my file.
There was no explanation about what their findings were or if they had actually conducted an investigation. To this day I don’t know the results, but apart from the letter, there were no consequences. The employee was relocated and later it turned out that this person had done similar things at another school, but in the earlier case the principal was told to keep quiet. There has never been an explanation or an apology.
This is my story of the Iron Cage. A school board totally out of touch with their staff more than likely doing its utmost to stay clear of a strong union in a time of labour strife. A school board that placed little value on a loyal employee.
There is no question in my mind that the system of centralized power and incompetent managers needs to be reworked. The pandemic has exposed all of this, but I experienced this gross misuse of authority and power over five years ago.
In his article, Paul Bennett calls for a humanizing of the education system. We need to turn away from big schools that dehumanize relationships between educators, children and parents. We also need a system that has some real oversight so that power can no longer be abused by those who want to sanction others who do not follow the script.
One board official once told me I deserved what I got because my views on education were unconventional. With attitudes like this how can we not want to rework our system? How can someone think it is OK to say things like that?
My situation remains unresolved because I never received an explanation and certainly not an apology. I am retired now – writing this while working at a school would certainly lead to grave consequences.
Now I want a better system. Not for me, but for all those who work in schools, for all children and families and their communities. These old institutions need to go and we need to start considering alternatives. As paul Bennett writes:
A new set of priorities is coming to the fore: put students first, democratize school governance, deprogram education ministries and school districts, and listen more to parents and teachers. Design and build smaller schools at the centre of urban neighbourhoods and rural communities. It’s not a matter of turning back the clock, but rather one of regaining control over our schools, rebuilding social capital, and revitalizing local communities.
This is what we really need to do. Humanize education, give power back to parents and communities, get rid of the bureaucracies that do everything in their power to protect what they have.
Education should be about people, it is not about power and institutions. When abuse of power happens so easily with no consequence for the abusers it is time to rework the system.