Professional Autonomy and Development

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Following the acrimony of our recent job action in BC schools, I’m inclined to take stock of what may be considered ‘wins’ in an otherwise defeating series of events. Having seen the government come to the terms that it did in the end, it’s hard not to feel that the major motivation Peter Fassbender and Christy Clark brought to the bargaining process was to spitefully take almost ten thousand dollars from me and my colleagues.

Those were mortgage payments.

Student loans deferred.

It’s difficult to not see it as mean-spirited, is all.

Of course, the government’s representatives were asking for much more, and to have struggled to a draw against a government that pays no heed to repeated admonishments in the province’s highest court is a victory of sorts, even while it may not give teachers as much to show for their efforts in the strike as we may have liked.

A raise that keeps pace (or caught us up) with inflation would have been a start.

Meaningful reforms to class sizes and composition ratios would have been another.

That said, in our local agreement Coquitlam teachers did affirm our rights to professional autonomy by gaining further control of our professional development in Article F.22, which guarantees us the affordance of a Pro-D committee that has access to school-based funding, as well as the autonomy to determine and advise administration on matters relating to professional development. This contract language represents a progressive step toward greater teacher autonomy as we assert more control over our own professionalism, which both our union and employer agree is tied to ongoing professional learning.

From its guide to members, the BCTF recognizes the following principles of professional development:

  • Members have an ongoing responsibility to develop professionally
  • Members have autonomy in making choices about their own professional development
  • Professional development planning is guided by members’ needs
  • Professional development informs teaching practice and encourages collegiality
  • Professional development requires time and resources to meet members’ needs
  • Professional development incorporates a wide repertoire of teacher collaboration, mentorship, action research, workshops, professional course work, professional reading, peer coaching, and reflection.

The British Columbia Teachers’ Council similarly maintains the following Standards for Education, Competence and Professional Conduct, with respect to professional development:

Educators engage in career-long learning

Educators engage in professional development and reflective practice, understanding that a hallmark of professionalism is the concept of professional growth over time. Educators develop and refine personal philosophies of education, teaching and learning that are informed by theory and practice. Educators identify their professional needs and work to meet those needs individually and collaboratively.

Educators contribute to the profession

Educators support, mentor and encourage other educators and those preparing to enter the profession. Educators contribute their expertise to activities offered by their schools, districts, professional organizations, post-secondary institutions or contribute in other ways.

Taken together with our new collective agreement around professional development, these principles of professional learning create an opportunity to revisit our school’s culture around pro-d and create an emphasis around lifelong learning, collaboration, and accountability.

If the professional development committee is to take its place alongside the CTA representation and Collaborative Decision Making Committee (CDMC) as another avenue of representing the voice of our teaching staff alongside our local stakeholders, I suggest it establishes a mandate for individuals to create and maintain an individual growth plan, and initiates a process of collaborative inquiries extending from these stated goals. Such a framework could then be used to guide a school’s Pro-D committee in facilitating meaningful, relevant, personalized professional learning throughout the year.

Such a reform would mirror the emerging themes in educational research stressed in the 21st century (inquiry, personalized learning, collaboration), and furthermore reflects a professional expectation for teachers to continually engage in learning about and reflecting on our craft as educators. It is this expectation which differentiates us from what might be considered vocations, or merely more general ’employees,’ and is a distinction that is especially important to make following the protracted battle our profession has waged in the court of public opinion in British Columbia in recent years. Having defended and expanded our rights to autonomous professional development, we owe it to ourselves and the communities we serve to explore the potential of our own learning such that we might be able to better demonstrate – for one another as colleagues as well as the student and parent communities we serve – the value of our recent struggle.

In breaking down the notion of Autonomous Professional Development, we might glimpse the convergence of our rights and responsibilities as practitioners:

Autonomous 

Engaged in by me, and us as a community of individuals. Owned by the individual and the community.

Professional 

Highly skilled. Adhering to standards and expectations.

Each of these first two may be seen to be both rights and responsibilities, and the freedom encapsulated in our rights is proportional to a commitment in our responsibilities to continually develop our understanding of autonomy and professionalism.

In other words, if we expect ourselves to be autonomous and professional, our responsibility is to continually develop:

Develop our skills. Develop our community. And develop our profession.

This act of development is a constructive act, one which suits the principles of democracy that we are all – regardless of subject speciality – charged with teaching in our classrooms, and a process we are obligated to engage in as citizens in a democracy, as well as teachers, and professionals. And if we are to provide this type of learning in our classrooms, we should be engaged – and are compelled to be engaged, in the language of our own members’ guide and professional expectations –  in a similarly constructive development of our own practice and profession.

Throughout this process we are guided by the following questions:

  • What are you working on?
  • What are you trying to do?
  • What do you wonder about?

It is not acceptable to not have an answer to these questions, and for my part I am suggesting that we amend our policies and expectations around professional development at our school to reflect this attitude. To this end, I hope to see our professional development committee move to require teachers to submit a personal growth plan at the outset of each year that will help direct our school based Pro-D toward a collaborative inquiry framework to support teacher-professionalism and community-building.

Back to School(s): Part I

Salad Roll / Tentative Deal Day

Having only spent a few Septembers free of my varied back-to-schools, I have difficulty not viewing fall as the start of a new year. Rested and inspired following summer break, September has become a time of renewal, setting goals, and staking out the terms and terrain by which the academic year will unfold. As I’ve been able to fold my professional pursuits within my personal endeavours and interests these last few years, I’ve increasingly looked to the dawn of autumn as an inspiring time.

Relieved as I may be to have returned to school this last week following the longest strike in British Columbian schools’ history, there is something that makes this September’s embrace somewhat awkward.Labour Days

Forced, even.

Until just last week, teachers in BC’s daily reality concerned a struggle for what many of us see as our part contribution toward realizing democracy’s noble aspirations. Faced with a government that has repeatedly shown disrespect and disregard for the purpose and mandate of public education, the majority of my 40,000 colleagues across the province and I were committed to standing up for not only our own rights to education, but those of our students, present and future.

And while the thought of it made me sick to my stomach, I was committed to standing on the street in front of our school as long as it was going to take to preserve those rights.

For eight weeks this summer, and for two into the new school year, the government’s proposed contracts contained strips (or at least threats, depending on the lawyer at hand) to legal victories which have cost the teachers’ union significantly, both in its finances and its standing with the public. For more than a decade, the combat of the BC Liberals and the BC Teachers’ Federation has revolved around the constitutional violations of a contract ripped up in 2002. While repeatedly admonished in the courts, the government has consistently and blithely thumbed its nose at the law and the province’s public schools, increasing funding to private “independent” schools, duplicating legislated language already deemed to be outside the law by the Supreme Court, and even diverting school funding during the strike for parents to seek out ‘other educational opportunities’ such as online courses or private education.

Not Your Family

As was noted in several conversations I’ve had in recent months, in the current government we faced “a totally different animal than ever before,” and there was no telling to what depths Premier Christy Clarke and Education Minister Peter Fassbender might sink in attempting to extract a victory by attrition to win back cases they’d soundly lost in the province’s highest court (twice). There was little reason to expect that part of the Liberals’ agenda included keeping public schools closed, and teachers’ families going without income, into October.

But I am proud to have been part of such a tribe as teachers who looked at such a set of circumstances and agreed to stand firm in our resolve to resist such a government. I’m glad to have fought alongside my school staff to make the best of a bad situation, to bring each other food, and emblazon T-shirts with our simplest of battle cries, and to share in one another’s company, and solidarity.

I’m proud to know the parents, and students, and members of our community that recognized the stand we were taking, and the toll it was taking on us, and helped us out: who wrote letters, and organized sit-ins, and brought us food and coffee on the picket line.

We believe in Public Education

And I’m proud to say that as a result of our shared efforts there was an end to the strike that protected our court victories, and even won several concessions for our elementary colleagues and TOCs in the province.

But between the official ending of the strike and the starting up of school this pride and sense of victory has soured some, as we have returned to school with these as the most meagre of victories. Victories which are so minute, in the grand terms of the struggle, that I am filled with a sense of anger at the blindness of government that would so unnecessarily lead the province’s public school system through such a protracted crisis.

For what?

To return to classes which are still too big, and getting bigger.

To reenter schools where our librarians are picking up blocks to teach, and our administrators are finding their way back into classrooms so students have courses to take.

Where our foods and shop classes are swelling, and our district continues to find ways out of its millions-of-dollars-a-year budgetary shortfall by amending class size limits or asking teachers to shoulder an ever-laden burden.

So as much as we have returned to work, we have also merely changed the venue of a fight against a government that stretches back more than twelve years. Where past Septembers have taken my aims and interests into blogs, and open courses, and trips into the British Columbian wild, I am compelled to continue the fight of our strike now in our day to day work as teachers. To this end I’ve taken on the role of (one of) our staff union representative(s), and hope that this new perspective on our profession allows me further opportunities to fold my personal and professional ambitions into a modeled teaching persona that is of pedagogical value in my classrooms, as well as the local community our school serves.

Setting out in the construction of my Masters of Education project, I plan to continue this year in exploring notions of citizenship education, both as a component of experiential education as well as in my work and advocacy as an open educator. Elements of this exploration touch upon curriculum, philosophy of education, and the advent of the Digital Age, and it is my hope to refine these strands of thought around ongoing projects in my fall and spring classes which I will describe in greater depth in a second installment of Back to School(s).

Why Picket

On the picket

On the picket with my mom and sister.

Hey all,

As we get toward the end of our first week on the picket line, I wanted to take the opportunity to invite the discussion of how we might share ideas to maximize our efforts in what could be a crucial week of negotiations between teachers and the government.

I realize that some of you may not be enthused about the prospect of being pilloried in a sandwich sign while you’re asked to pace in front of your job site for a few hours every day, and know that not everyone is the sort of extravert that is able to jump into these sorts of things easily, even when they agree with the cause. But I would point out that the purpose we are serving on the picket line is twofold:

  • We are refusing / preventing work normally done on our work site to apply pressure on management / government at the negotiating table;
  • We are building public awareness of key issues which greatly undercut the government’s steadfast narrative of greedy teachers demanding more free massages and “more than twice the raise any other union got.”

*cough* despite not coming off two years’ of zeros as teachers are. 

To these two purposes, I would argue that our attention while on strike is much better utilized if we focus on the second of these two goals. In most industries, a union withholding its labour penalized the owners financially as capital is prevented from moving and thus accumulating value. To most employers, this financial pressure can create an immediate effect; we saw this in action when the truckers’ union at the Port of Vancouver went on strike earlier this year, effectively shutting down a major port of trade, and were granted a deal in less than a week. But as the withholding of our labour actually saves the government millions of dollars a week, we can see that merely closing our work site created minimal (in fact opposite) leverage for our union in its negotiations. If we stick to this course of action, the government would have little incentive to not let the strike drag on until October until we’re broke enough to accept a deal that would negate all of the work, sacrifice and difficult choices we have made to get us to this point.

What matters, it seems to me, and could help us greatly in our cause as our walkout goes into a second week before summer vacation takes the public eye away from our negotiations, is the raising of public support for our struggle for a fair deal in this round of bargaining. Part of the way we do this is by positively representing ourselves and our intentions while on the line. How we interact with traffic, pedestrians and other working people in our communities goes a long way in establishing a public perception of our union and its efforts that many of us have long-wished was more a part of the face of the BCTF. For better or worse, while we are ‘on the line’ in front of our schools, we are who our neighbours are seeing as the union they keep hearing about on the news these days. They could drive by and see a bunch of folks socializing in lawn chairs with their signs propped up against the tent-les; or they could see an enthusiastic team of teachers actively courting their support and solidarity.

By all means, take some time to get warmed up. Bring a lawn chair to rest your feet or back, and catch up with your colleagues. Play a guitar. But each shift should be making a concerted effort to connect with the people driving and walking through our neighbourhood. You’d be surprised the effect of an engaging smile and a wave from a passing stranger, let alone fifteen.

Eye contact creates empathy and respect between people, even when they disagree. Pour on the kindness to those with stern glances, birds or words. Reasonable people can disagree, and these interactions allow people to take a stance on the issue of our negotiations. For my part I can say that in our weeks on the picket so far, these have been many, many more honks, waves, thumbs-ups, solidarity-fists, and smiles than there have been their negative counterparts. And as the government continues to stonewall progress on a labour-disruption that – for the moment – impacts every corner of the province, the imbalance has only grown. This groundswell of support is our only means of influencing government’s posture at the bargaining table, and we should actively continue to court it across our lines this week.

To this end I compel you to demonstrate resolve to stand together as a school against an imposed contract that would not only perpetuate the injustices of the past, but would further degrade the conditions of our province’s schools.

Not everyone feels as passionately as I do, perhaps, and I think that’s fine. A union is intended to be an expression of democracy, and the differences in our opinions make us stronger, not weaker. But at the moment we are on strike, the result of just such a democratic expression of the membership, even if you voted (or would have preferred to vote) no. If you are disconcerted by the hope of having ‘gone out,’ I would further add that the duration, not to mention the end results, of our current job action could depend on us maximizing our efforts to engage the public while out picketing.

If you are unconvinced, try driving by a school with a handful of teachers picketing from lawn chairs. Then drive by Charles Best as their entire staff is marching the length of Como Lake Avenue with their signs asking the province for A Fair Deal. Drive by Gleneagle during any shift many of our recall teachers are out there, and I would bet that it becomes a little harder to dismiss our union as an unreasonable party to an eternal gridlock in BC education.

Our energy line has pioneered a few new picket moves this week, and will be exploring more original material next week. Mike and others have supplied new and creative signs for our zone on Landsdowne. And there is talk of a ‘costume’ day on the line next week.

As the kids in my neighbourhood keep asking me in their scrawled hop-scotch courts marking the days of their newfound summer vacation, to boot: why don’t we have any sidewalk chalk out there? 

We aren’t on strike because we’ve lost or are losing. We’re on strike because we still might win. But what there’s left for us to win might have to be won this week.

So let’s make it count.

See you out there,

Bryan

Guest Post: Letter from a Colleague

We believe in Public Education

Melanie Stokes is a colleague of mine who forwarded me this letter that she submitted to the Vancouver Sun to share here. 

As teachers are now in their second week of full job action, it may be important to consider the reasons why this situation is happening now.  Over the last thirty years, society has undergone great changes and the role of education has expanded accordingly. The time has come for us to decide if we are able or want to support education with all the expectations of what it must deliver.

Thirty years ago, classes were often larger but were mostly a homogenous group of kids.  Schools had clear expectations about discipline and students were streamed according to academic ability.  Curriculum was focussed on basic literacy and numeracy skills and going into the work place rather than university was the norm after graduation.  Students with special needs were segregated. Schools were not expected to deliver individual education plans; neither were teachers required to meet all the learning needs of all the children in their classes. Teachers taught the whole class as a group and did their best to provide accelerated materials to the bright kids, and get the slower learners caught up.  That was pretty much it.  No one felt it necessary to feed children breakfast because they were too hungry to learn or had to learn how to deal with autistic, Downs Syndrome, ADD, ADHD, Oppositional Disorder students or large groups of children who spoke no English at all.

Over the last thirty years, education has been given the job of trying to fix all the problems of an increasingly complex society.  Teachers took it in their stride, believing that they could, and would be able to make positive changes for the children in their care.  They embraced the idea of integration for special needs students and never considered that at some point, the funding to for teacher support would be reduced to the point where classroom management would become almost impossible.  They have accepted children in their classes who have no idea how to function in a group setting, how to speak or comprehend English, children from poor, dysfunctional families with no social or financial resouces, refugee children from war torn countries with resulting psychological problems, learners with a myriad of challenges that teachers are expected to address.

Teachers did and still do go about their jobs every day believing they can make a positive impact on the social, emotional, and acedemic growth of the children in their care.  Despite the rhetoric of government and union, this fight is about the value of education and what we, as a society deem important.  Do we want a return to the “one size fits all” education practice of the past, or do we wish to continue with the education system we have grown to expect?  If so, then we should be prepared to pay for it.

Schools of today are successful because of the efforts of those who work within them.  If there is no will or not enough money to support educators to do the job we demand of them, then we should go back to the old school system and stop expecting teachers, principals, and support staff to do more and more for our children with unrealistic funding and less and less support.

If a good education for all children is considered important, and it should be, then let’s stop the erosion of services and demand that our government provide the necessary financial support to keep the education we expect for our children.

On 21st Century Schools

As I’ve explored at some length here, I think of schools today as guided by our mission statements and legal mandates to pursue an ageless ideal of education along the lines of how John Dewey characterized schooling as the act of “preparing students for the adult vocations needed for society to continue to exist.”

The question of whether our current schools / teachers / curriculum are preparing students for the 21st century involves an analysis of the implicit messages communicated by schools about education and whether they are in line with the values of enlightenment and learning: an investigation of what we might call the Hidden Curriculum 

José García and Noah De Lissovoy introduce the idea that “school curriculum at any given point in time can be marked by the cultural, political and economic structure of that particular society.” Building from this premise, they set about defining the momentary economic need addressed by 21st century school curricula:

“Capitalism in its current stage is marked by structural changes in the process of production along with the rise of a global neoliberal political order. This stage is characterized by the transition to a post-Fordist process of production along with the rise of a neoliberal political project to establish the conditions for capital accumulation and to restore the power of economic elites through the crafting of specific political and ideological structures and understandings (Harvey 2005; Wacquant 2012). The school, as an institution within the state, serves to produce the subjects that are required for the novel social conditions of the neoliberal era.”

Garcia and De Lissovoy frame their analysis within a context of precarious employment and financial instability – especially among young people – and “the carceral 1 turn in Neoliberalism.”

“Building from Michael Hardt’s notion of ‘prison time,’ we propose a notion of school time which links preparation and demoralization, as the subjectivity of students is organized as much for exclusion as for incorporation into familiar spaces of labor and citizenship.”

In doing so, they present a hidden curriculum which “lays the groundwork for an orientation of servility in relationship to authority and a condition of precarity in relation to work.”

Driving this evolution of the hidden curriculum, the authors suggest, is the advent of a “post-Fordist regime of production,” wherein labour are:

      • Flexible, mobile and precarious;
      • Highly adaptable to constant innovations in production;
      • Willing to move frequently between jobs;
      • Accepting of the fact that long-term employment is not guaranteed;
      • And able to merge the communicative processes with those formally thought as “production,” or instrumental tasks.

Part of the larger neoliberal political project, the evolution of post-Fordist capitalism has been nurtured by the cultivation of “discourses of efficiency, consumerism, choice and accountability in place of sense of collective responsibility.”

Under neoliberalism,

“Spheres of social activity organized on the basis of notions of the public good or social solidarity are branded as inefficient from this perspective, and neoliberalism demands that they be reorganized according to the bottom-line logic of the market (Klein 2007). The school has been one of the crucial sites of the broad neoliberalism of society (Hursh 2005; Saltman 2005).”

The authors incorporate Michael Hardt‘s (1997) idea of “prison time‘ into the school’s hidden curriculum in considering the course of a school day:

“In [school], the planning ahead of how time will be used, controlled and regimented by power signifies the domination over an individual‘s control of his or her time, and thus his or her freedom and sense of agency. Furthermore, the control and regimentation of time eliminates possibilities for improvisation in daily experiences; nothing is unforeseeable.”

If the schools of the Fordist era of capitalism can be seen adopting the narrative motifs of the factory – with the student the symbolic factory worker – we glimpse a hidden curriculum preparing labour to receive an altogether different induction into the “real world,” one where one’s publicly available education could ensure a stable career and income, mortgage payments and a pension.

As in the unionized factory where the symbolic ‘worker’ will take up his life’s profession, through the hidden curriculum the student is taught to contribute his skills and working life to the larger project of labour as a respected part of capitalistic society.

Compared to the worker being groomed in the schools of the 21st century, we might forgive the many failings of 1950s institutions – racism, sexism, or violence against those outside the white mainstream – for their ability to maintain the intellectual ideals that would create the space for the civil rights movements that fought to create greater human freedom across the capitalistic experience. Today’s students are prepared to enter a world of labour created by the post-Fordist, neoliberal era where, for Hardt, Garcia and De Lissovoy, the societal metaphor at work in schools’ Hidden Curriculum has evolved in kind: “society is no longer a factory, it is a prison.”

“…in neoliberalism, freedom is understood as choice […]. The choices are already prescribed and we express our freedom by choosing from the given options. Life even outside prison has thus become regimented and void of meaning, for we no longer have autonomy to decide what and how to use our time beyond exercising our freedom to consume.”

Gregory Bateson defines the type of learning within such a set of choices as Learning I, where development is achieved through a “correction of errors of choice within a set of alternatives.” 

From Learning 0 to Learning IV, Bateson introduces a Hierarchy of Learning in his book, Steps to an Ecology of MindLearning II, Bateson says, would exist as corrective change in the set of alternatives from which choice is made.”

In Learning II, there might still be a test, or a report card; but participants are invited to be engaged in the process.

“Within this seemingly inescapable reality of domination,” Garcia and De Lissovoy concede, “there are nevertheless moments in which inmates and those outside prison resist the drive of power to control time, in authentic encounters with others and the relationships that arise from such encounters.”

Indeed.

As Bateson’s hierarchy moves to Learning III, we see a glimpse of schooling which encourages a corrective change in the system of sets of alternatives from which choice is made, a truly transformative act of learning that schools are also charged with providing. For the act of learning, and of schooling, is not merely to prepare the required labour for the dictates of an all-powerful market society; it is to prepare the minds and citizenry capable of creating a society, economy and culture that honours the best of what the Project of Enlightenment promises, and critiques the status quo, imagines what could be alongside the asking why things are the way they are, and has the skills to create a meaningful tomorrow.

Through such an education, 21st century schools might realize what Paulo Freire called the creation of:

a critical and dynamic view of the world, [which] strives to unveil reality, unmask its mythicization, and achieve a full realization of the human task: the permanent transformation of reality in favor of the liberation of people.

  1.  Latin: carcer – prison

Inquiry into the Northwest

Northwest Inquiry
Organizing Inquiry Topics

These last few weeks, the TALONS have taken their study of Socials 10 west, from the fledgling union of Confederation to Hudson’s Bay, Manitoba, and the resistance that unfolds along the Red River Valley. In seeking out the story of Louis Riel, and how his execution – as well as the subsequent relationship between the government and the Metis, Inuit and other First Nations of the Northwest – fits into modern Canada’s understanding of our origin story, the unit seemed naturally suited to a structure of personal and collaborative inquiry.

In thinking about what shape the inquiry would take, I wondered if Canadian History might borrow a project from a study of personal narratives a few years back. As part of an English essay-writing unit, the personal reflection and  critical exploration that came about through each member of the class writing and recording an audio version of This I Believe essays gave way to a crystalline vision of a socially constructed artistic expression.

Really, it was something.

Even the Edward R. Murrow quote from the unit page on the class wiki speaks to something I think we’re teaching no matter what the topic in history:

“..to point to the common meeting grounds of belief, which is the essence of brotherhood and the floor of our civilization.”


Needless to say, perhaps, I’ve been looking to repeat the experience at some point.

Though the TALONS program seldom ‘repeats’ itself very often. There are familiar elementsevents and explorations, sure. But to a certain extent, each of the TALONS cohorts walks its own path, and creates its own stories. And as these stories get filtered down between grade tens and nines, survive on the class wikis and archives of blogged assignments now going back four years (!), I look forward to this period of spring when the forms, norms and storms of the fall and winter allow for the present collective of personalities to synthesize their learning in the present community’s own terms.

This year the class’ study of North American history began with Geography and the American Revolution, before taking on a series of discussions on Canadian Confederation, and setting out into the Northwest. But through each of these subjects, there has been much conversation around the role of mythology in our national identity:

  • How we tell the stories of our inception.
  • How we internalize our narratives of victory.
  • And how best to confront the darker corners of our past.
Northwest Timeline
Northwest Timeline

All of which is the long way of introducing where the class began last week by reading up on the resources and materials created by the TALONS of 2010 and setting out their own directions of inquiry in blog form, which were then sorted into distinct themes:

Cultural Effects of Expansion

“Canada’s a pretty great place today, eh? The Northwest expansion, or basically the years from 1700 – 1900, Canada went through the time that would most influence the country that it is today.

In looking closer to a specific part of this process, I wondered how the expansion into Rupert’s Land owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company affected the Lower Canadian French people.”

Alyssa

“From 1830 to 1996 Inuit, First Nations, and Metis were torn from their native culture with intentions of assimilating them into the dominant culture through the Residential School System. These schools, run by Christian priests and nuns, raised and abused the indigenous people of Canada in hopes to “kill the Indian in the child”. Some schools in Alberta and British Columbia going so far as the compulsory sterilization OF CHILDREN. Aboriginal children weren’t seen as children, they were seen as seeds of savages to invade the garden of civilizations that were in need of extermination.”

Julie

The Fur Trade

“At the forefront of this (as you all know) was the fur trade.  For a set of pelts scraped off the backs of deceased animals you would receive fantastic HBC products such as overly strong perfume, clothing made in China, and other forms of HBC swag decked out in those trademark stripes.  Jokes aside, the items up for trade were much more practical, however, not any greater in the quality or value than their modern merchandise.   While you could get fabulous point blankets, thunder sticks, and firewater, there had to be room for profit.”

Tyler

“As common knowledge of the Fur trade, Hudson’s Bay Company and North West Company were fierce rivals for many years. They both wanted to control the fur trade and were willing to do anything to control the market. This resulted in some company members even willing to murder for better trades. They began fighting and they continued fighting from the 1780′s until 1821. In 1820, both companies began struggling financially. In 1821,  Henry Bathurst the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, forced the companies to stop fighting.”

Anthony

The Life and Hard Times of Louis Riel

“Though regarded as a hero in Quebec, Riel was still widely denounced as Thomas Scott’s “murderer”, and a reward of $5000 was offered for his arrest. Sir John A. MacDonald, wanting to avoid political conflict, even offered to provide funds to Riel if he remained in his exile. But Riel eventually returned and joined federal politics. He was quite successful as well, winning in a by-election in 1873 and the general election is 1874. All was well for Riel, until he went to Ottawa to sign the register. Riel was sentenced to two years imprisonment and stripped of his political rights. The federal government finally decided to grant amnesty to Riel, provided he went into a five year banishment. During his banishment, Riel would go on to stay at two asylums in Quebec and a teaching job in Montana.”

Justann

Related Current Events

“Later that year, in May, chat logs revealed 22 year old Bradley Manning’s confession to leaking the video to Wikileaks. Manning was arrested shortly after without a trial and sent to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. There, he suffered harsh living conditions where, as David House, founder of the Bradley Manning Support Network, states that Manning “[degraded] over time – physically, mentally, and emotionally.” His mental health, as stated by his lawyer, has been described as “almost gone.””

Christina

“Anyway, so Cyprus was actually surprisingly stable for a long time, rated in the top 50 of the nicest places to live, up until the Eurozone crisis in which everything went to hell  heck(Gotta keep things ‘G’). That, as you may or may not remember, happened just last year and is still affecting them today, as we see with Cyprus. Being a small island country, they don’t have a vast amount of resources to trade and sell to help them escape the crisis, which is a primary reason behind their economic downfall.”

Jess

In the photo above – and in these herehere and here – you can see the process by which these various individual threads were woven into different group inquiries that have become (over the course of the last week) the subject of various audio documentaries. Taking as examples the exemplary reporting, editing and storytelling of the folks at Radiolab and This American Life – and coinciding with a particularly timely episode of CBC’s Ideas – groups of three-to-five TALONS have been building collaborative audio documentaries of their individual explorations, soliciting interviews and writing personal reflections on their learning throughout the research process.

All of which we’re hoping to share this week, live on the (web) radio.


Building on a recent English unit that saw the class present audio dramas live in the classroom, the plan for this week is to take the groups’ various produced segments down the hall (to an often-used Math ‘tutorial’ office) and onto the Hive 105 airwaves such that they can be streamed live into the classroom speakers (for that extra bit of radio authenticity), and onto the wider web for listeners across the country, and anywhere else you might like to tune in from [For more information about how to listen to 105 the Hive in your classroom, click here].

You’ll be able to tune into the TALONS Northwest audio documentaries this week on both Wednesday and Thursday (Friday as well, if necessary), with the morning class presenting between 9:00am – 10:10am (PDT), and the afternooners going on between 1:45pm – 3:00pm (exact time to be determined), and join us on Twitter (or a Skype call in, if there’s time…) at @talonsblog during each of the broadcasts.

If you aren’t able to join us live, stay tuned to Defying Normality for the upcoming show notes and audio archive.

Conversations I'm following

P2011638

Photo from Al Jazeera English on Flickr

As the Talons class moves forward with its discussion of ongoing media coverage and context behind recent events in Egypt and across the Middle East, the conversation has ranged from an investigation of the realities of an emerging media landscape, to the nature of Truth, violence, and power. Views have been researched, expressed, challenged, and adapted. And we’re just getting started.

Here are four branches of the conversation I’m following:

Mahalia on Sara’s post:

“…residential camps consisted of young native children that had been forced to leave their homes, were not allowed to speak their language and were treated very cruelly( they were beaten). And Canada SHOULD be ashamed of what happened but they can’t just hide these facts from us. Being a little bit native myself I already knew about residential camps, I was so shocked when almost all our class had never heard of this. I noticed that in textbooks they make it seem like Europeans and Natives were “working together”. Not really. It seems that the textbooks given to us in school are trying to create the image of Canada where things are peaceful and always have been.”

Richard on Kelsey’s post:

The United States is flip-flopping between its support for Mubarak and its support for the Egyptian people. This is primarily caused by the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood will most likely take power of Egypt if Hosni Mubarak steps down from the presidency. According to many Egyptian people, the Muslim Brotherhood is an extremist group who are very much opposing the U.S. influence in Egypt. Due to the geographical location of Egypt in relation to other countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. is most likely afraid that these countries will eventually ally against them. This provides a major threat to the U.S., and the government there is unsure of which side to support. It is true that they have given a lot of funding towards Hosni Mubarak and have been in a political relationship with his government for many years now. This has been one of the main reasons why Mubarak has stayed in power for so long, fulfilling the United States’ goal to maintain Egypt as an ally. However, the strength of the people in Egypt is growing in these riots that have been occurring, while that also shows that a new leader needs to step into place very soon. Despite this, having Egypt in the control of the Muslim Brotherhood is not a very good idea, so a new party with different representatives is the key in Egypt. However, Egypt’s first true democratic election in almost thirty years will obviously be decided by its people, who will now have the right to elect anyone. The rioting in Egypt will end as soon as Mubarak steps down, but the problems created from this crisis on a national (for Egypt) and global scale are unlikely to end stop soon. As for what will happen to the bond between Egypt and the United States, it will most likely be severed if the Muslim Brotherhood takes power.

Liam on Nick’s post:

It may seem an odd thing, considering that Egypt and Israel have fought four wars since 1948, their people are generally opposed to each other, and until the Camp David Accords, Egypt did not recognize Israel’s right to exist. But the flow of American money is meant to stabilize Egypt and that it has – for thirty years Egypt has fought no war, and indeed has not even had a regime change. As Mubarak, a former military man, receives all this monetary aid, he has channeled the money into the military, which certainly contributed to stability. But how did it do this? Money can create stability in two ways: through investment in the economy and social programs to keep the people happy and self-sufficient, or through investment in the military and other security forces to keep order for a discontented people. There are times when the second option is preferable – like, say, Israel in 1948 – but generally, the first option is the best thing to do. Egypt was not really particularly threatened by any of its neighbours, and even Israel, the most controversial power in the region, is very unlikely to attack a major Arab power, for obvious reasons. So the question then must be asked, should the American aid go to buy tear gas canisters, used only to suppress protesters, or should it go to create jobs and a livelihood for thousands of people? What do you think?

Jen on Sepehr’s post:

I just don’t understand your views about how the Egyptian government “is fair and righteous”. As Mr.J pointed out, Amnesty International says “The most pressing human rights concerns that Amnesty International has documented are the use of emergency legislation to arrest and detain people without charge or trial; the widespread use of torture and other ill-treatment; grossly unfair trials of civilians before military and emergency courts; restrictions on the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly…” An article in The New York Times states “The government [of Egypt] has maintained what it calls an Emergency Law, passed first in 1981 to combat terrorism after the assassination of Mr. Sadat. The law allows police to arrest people without charge, detain prisoners indefinitely, limit freedom of expression and assembly, and maintain a special security court.” Next, the police, who you said “are present to stop the people from blowing themselves up or setting each other on fire in anger; they are not Mubarak’s bloody torturers.”, are torturing and raping people all over the place. You have Mr.J’s example from Amnesty International “In addition, government security forces have harassed and intimidated people engaged in public displays of support for victims of the bombing.” You also have a variety of examples of police brutality from The New York Times, “The Egyptian police have a long and notorious track record of torture and cruelty to average citizens. One case that drew widespread international condemnation involved a cellphone video of the police sodomizing a driver with a broomstick. In June 2010, Alexandria erupted in protests over the fatal beating by police of beating Khaled Said, 28. The authorities said he died choking on a clump of marijuana, until a photograph emerged of his bloodied face. In December 2010, a suspect being questioned in connection with a bombing was beaten to death while in police custody.”

Participants in the Age of Information

Jonathan’s political cartoon

This week semester two began with the class’ study of Manitoba’s Red River Rebellion, Louis Riel, and the explosion of Egypt’s political upheaval. On the edge of a new unit, and the coming onset of spring, the Talons have set out to uncover the truth behind media and political interpretation of both history and recent current events. Seeking the more basic truth of individual experience and expression in a record of social bookmarks and blogpostsnot to mention comments the class is attempting to answer personal questions about the goings on in Egypt and Middle East that were identified as relevant topics on the class wiki this week:

  • What are the conditions that have created the anti-government sentiment in Egypt?
  • Where else do such conditions exist?
  • What are the specific goals of the protesters? Who is emerging as their leader / spokesperson?
  • What is important to know about Egyptian history or culture to better understand these recent developments?
  • What has the Western (European, American, Canadian) response to developments in the Middle East been?
  • What conditions or factors influence the West’s decisions regarding these countries’ fates?
  • Who and what is the Muslim Brotherhood? What do they want?
  • What emotions factor in journalism?
  • What does ______ have to gain by influencing different outcomes?
  • What is the media’s responsibility: to tell its audience what it is expecting to hear? To challenge people’s existing views or opinions? To objectively present information?
  • Are there viewpoints or perspectives missing from coverage of events in the Middle East?

Along with the collection, and discussion of many different brands of media’s coverage of the recent struggles for freedom across the Middle East, the Talons took to the blogs last night, and haven’t looked back. They began by seeking out the untold stories, the truth behind the media, even only in as much as they could interpret their own response to them.

Megan found this to be no small task:

I have read so much about these protests, it’s all I can do but to try and imagine what it is like, standing side by side with so many others, all fighting for freedom. I wish I could say that I have done something like that, made a change. Who I am, and what I do, is hardly history textbook worthy. I am a child, a child in a never-ending world which stretches on forever in any possible direction.

For the past week, this is all I have been able to think about. But then, just this night, something occurred to me. The cause of the Egypt rebellions was from a push; a movement from the people of Egypt, but more specifically, the youth. Whenever an article on this is written, you can bet that it usually at least mentions social media as one of the causes. Does the “Facebook Revolution” sound familiar? Or maybe Twitter? These were the means by which the word was spread, the dissatisfaction in the government and the voice they felt they didn’t have, and the realization that something could be done about it.

Donya finds a connection to a young man whose death may have sparked a rise to action:

In this article , it is thought that Khaled Saeed’s death was one of the many factors in the start of the Egyptian protests. On the news, there was some footage of demonstrators holding up pictures of his face and shouting “Khaled Said!” with passionate anger.

Khaled’s brutal death was one of the events that pushed the Egyptians to voice their anger, but was it worth his torture for the sake of his country’s change?

Do you think that if he was alive today, that he would endure immeasurable amounts of pain to have the same outcome? Would you do that for your country and for future generations?

It sounds as if I’m bordering on sacrifice here, but that’s what this is isn’t it?

Only a small percent of people can actually say whatever comes to mind and publish it for whoever to see without having to sleep with one eye open.

The other percent are faced with the possible death of what they believe, who they love and even themselves if they share what they think.

And they do it anyways.

It seems as though Khaled was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and happened to be given a glimpse of how twisted everything really is.The people who were trained to protect and provide an example, were instead exploiting their power in order to get a quick fix.

I think Khaled’s death was one caused to uphold an image, but then later on turned into ammunition for millions of people who were wronged on a daily basis.

I don’t know this man, nor will I ever get a chance to meet him, but the fact that he chose (unknowingly, perhaps) knowledge instead of his own life, made me admire him anyways.

And that is what Khaled said.

And Lexi wonders if she – and perhaps the rest of her classmates – might be onto something bigger:

It’s like I’ve started pulling at a thread that doesn’t end. And maybe that’s the thing about truth. Maybe truth cannot be absolute, irrevocable, and undisputed.

Indeed, Stephanie’s post proposes truth in this case to be an illusion altogether, alluding to the Al Jazeera’s dubbing of recent events:

Egypt’s rebellion will be known as the “Revolution of Dreams”.  This vision is where thousands of men and women work together to fulfill.  Leonardo DiCaprio once quoted in the movie Inception “Once an idea has taken hold of the brain, it’s almost impossible to eradicate.”  As a result, the Egyptians voiced out, allowing the world to make known of their words.  And through this movement, we come to understand that when “people power” unites, it will ultimately conquer the government.

But Richard, in a comment-turned-blogpost on Iris’ post, gets to the heart of the matter:

Raw facts, especially numbers are the truth, however when it is being reported, it become opinion. So, really a report is like myth.

At the heart of every myth there is a grain of truth.

I think, as I told Richard in a comment I posted tonight, that this grain of truth is the essence of our study of history through communication:

The socials curriculum is weaved out of stories of exactly this sort of political instability and unrest:

  • we study the revolutions of England, France, and in America
  • we reenact the Confederation of Canada
  • we are introduced to rebellious figures such as Louis Riel (who in his own time was a fugitive of Canada – teaching highs school in Montana – before being hanged for treason)

These lessons, and a continually rigorous interpretation of current events are the basis of a responsible participation in democracy, but also the pursuit of illusory truths that are the telling, and retelling, defining of human history, starting with a record and discussion of the present moment.

Which brings us right back to Megan, who writes perhaps some of the most inspiring words yet rendered on the class blogs:

And then you come back to me. Still sitting in front of her computer, and still on the opposite side of the world. I am a child, in this age of information. But I am also part of the age of information. I have just as much say in what occurs as everyone.

If what happened in Egypt is any indicator as to what can be accomplished through communication, I think that maybe, I need to realize, or maybe we (and I’m talking to all my fellow youth out there) need to realize that if we organize we can accomplish something big. People may say that children and youth are better seen, and not heard. But you know what? We are the new generation, and we should have a say about what sort of world we are growing up into.

So hey, there’s my two cents. Just tossing it out in the world of the internet.

But I guess you might say this:

I know that it actually matters now.

I am a participant in this age of information.

The class will be engaged in a process of exploring a diversity of opinions across these topics in the coming terms, and invite your input in our discussion, if you, too, are possessed of an opinion about the way of the world, at this unique moment in time.

You can check in with the discussion on the embedded blogposts and bookmarks on the Talons Socials Wiki, as well as Blog and Comment feeds in RSS if you would like to subscribe.